In a major boost to promote the use of drones in agriculture in India, the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare has issued guidelines to make drone technology affordable to the stakeholders of this sector. The guidelines of Sub-Mission on Agricultural Mechanization (SMAM) have been amended which envisages granting upto 100 per cent of the cost of agricultural drones or Rs. 10 lakh, whichever is less, as a grant for the purchase of drones by the Farm Machinery Training & Testing Institutes, ICAR institutes, Krishi Vigyan Kendras and State Agriculture Universities (SAU) for taking up large scale demonstrations of this technology on the farmers’ fields.
The farmer producers organisations (FPOs) would be eligible to receive grants upto 75 per cent of the cost of agricultural drones for its demonstrations on the farmers’ fields.
According to the ministry, a contingency expenditure of Rs. 6000 per hectare would be provided to implementing agencies that do not want to purchase drones but will hire drones for demonstrations from custom hiring centres, Hi-tech Hubs, drone manufacturers and start-ups. The contingent expenditure to implementing agencies that purchase drones for drone demonstrations would be limited to Rs. 3000 per hectare. The financial assistance and grants would be available until March 31, 2023.
In order to provide agricultural services through drone application, 40 per cent of the basic cost of drone and its attachments or Rs.4 lakh, whichever less would be available as financial assistance for drone purchase by existing custom hiring centres which are set up by cooperative societies of farmers, FPOs and rural entrepreneurs. The new CHCs or the Hi-tech Hubs that will be established by the cooperative societies of farmers, FPOs and rural entrepreneurs with financial assistance from SMAM, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) or any other schemes can also include drones as one of the machines along with other agricultural machines in the projects of CHCs/Hi-tech Hubs, the new guidelines read.
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Agriculture graduates establishing custom hiring centres would be eligible to receive 50 per cent of the basic cost of drone and its attachments or up to Rs.5 lakh in grant support for drone purchases. Rural entrepreneurs should have passed class tenth examination or its equivalent from a recognised board and should have a remote pilot license from an institute specified by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) or from any authorised remote pilot training organisation.
The subsidised purchase of agricultural drones for CHCs/Hi-tech Hubs will make the technology affordable, resulting in their widespread adoption. This would make drones more accessible to the common men in India and will also significantly encourage domestic drone production.
According to the guidelines, the use of drones in agriculture is being permitted by Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) and the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) through the conditional exemption route. MoCA has published ‘Drone Rules 2021’ vide GSR No. 589(E) dated 25th August 2021 to regulate the use and operation of drones in India. The Department of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare has also brought out Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for drone application with pesticides for crop protection in agricultural, forestry, non-cropped areas and for drone application in spraying for soil and crop nutrients. The demonstrating institutions and all the providers of agricultural services through drone application have to comply with these rules/regulations and SOPs.