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Scrap Drones: Trap Monkeys

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We, the Government 

By HUGH & COLLEEN GANTZER

We ended our Garhwal Post column of 8/10/‘19 with the words: “More queries are likely to follow.” Here is the follow through. On Friday 18th and Saturday 19th, we were invaded by marauding tribes of rhesus monkeys. They came in all sizes and ages from the squeaking tiniest to the snarling largest. They ravaged our garden. Two of the burly males rushed forward to attack us. An attack by a large group of monkeys can be crippling and disfiguring, at the least, or fatal, at the worst. But, as sundry netas and babus have learnt, we do not turn tail and run. In fact, challenges are simulating adrenaline generators! Besides, we belong to that (seemingly out of phase!) generation who revere Mahatma Gandhi. Writing in Harijan on 5.5.’46 The Seer Who Won Our Freedom said: “I have come to the conclusion that to do away with monkeys where they have become a menace to the wellbeing of man is pardonable. Such killing becomes a duty.” (My Religion published by Navajivan Publishing House) That duty, if it is still recognised as one in this age of new-think and echo- chambers, reputedly lies with our Forest Department. But, in Mussoorie, the senior officers of the Department give the impression of looking the other way. The Department has not, to the best of our knowledge, trained any of its staff in Mussoorie as Monkey Catchers. In the Armed Forces there is a term for this apparent evasion of responsibility. In fairness, however, and in order to give them every benefit of the doubt, let us presume that the Department believes that they have both a shortage of funds and a lack of manpower. A reader of our column has written to us giving cogent reasons for the savants of our wildernesses to re-think the matter of investing in drones rather than in Forest Guards. Some significant points made in the letter are: 1. Because our state is largely mountainous, it is difficult to operate fixed wing drones. The option is to use the more versatile Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) Drones. Has this been factored into our calculations? 2. VTOLs, however, have the disadvantage of short flight duration. In other words, the effective operation time of a VTOL drone would be only 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the weight of the camera it carried. 3. The minimum cost of such a VTOL Drone, carrying an effective camera, would be about Rs 3.5 lakh. Given the extent and varied terrain of our forests, our Forest Drone Force (FDF) should consist of a squadron of at least 30 such drones. That would cost us a minimum of Rs 1 Crore just to acquire the VTOLs. Add to that the cost of training personnel, their salaries and ancillary recurring expenses, maintenance of and spares for the VTOLs. Such expenses could be camouflaged the way a comfortable, town-running, car can be passed off as a rugged work-horse for all-terrain use. (Sarkari cars are assiduously wangled post-retirement perks!) 4. In spite of their high cost, drones are only Eyes in the Skies, They can tell their handlers what is happening down below, they cannot do anything about it! They cannot effectively douse forest fires, or apprehend poachers, or neutralise terrorists, or tranquilise man- eaters, or control epidemics or viral infestations threatening our fauna and flora; or even escort VIPs on their wildlife junkets. These all-expense-paid tours earn maha brownie points for senior forest flunkies in their quest for that cosseted A/C room in Paryavaran Bhavan! 5. All these jobs, beyond the ability of expensive drones, have to be done by the human staff of the Forest Department. We have been informed that the estimated Rs 1 Crore that these Pies in the Sky would cost would pay for 100 boots on the ground for one year! Or, to put it in the terms that some of our netas might understand, drones don’t have votes: people do. Which, then, dear Protector of the Poor, is the better choice? These are the hard facts as We, the Government know them. If we are wrong, correct us. We welcome dialogue. Till then, we rest our case.