India-made drones, however, are believed to have faced difficulties while navigating inside the Tapovan tunnel

New Delhi: The use of Chinese drones for mapping by some Indian start-ups, roped in for the first time during two-week long relief operation at Chamoli in Uttarakhand, has been red-flagged as an area of concern for future deployment of such technology in government-aided relief missions.

ET has learnt that the post-operations assessment report mentions that a couple of start-ups used Chinese-made DJI drones for mapping, which have been under the scanner for “information privacy” purposes. Also, it mentions that countries like the US have banned these drones for sensitive use.

“There have been a lot of concerns about Chinese drones raised by various countries about information privacy while using them. Even the US has banned their usage. So, for sensitive operations like Uttarakhand, it would be very risky if usage of Chinese drones continues, especially during border patrol operations,” an official familiar with details of the report told ET.

In the month-long effort following the natural disaster in which 130 people are still missing, four start-ups — Endure Air (IIT-Kanpur), Drona Maps, Garuda Aerospace and Fligen System — were drafted by the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF).

India-made drones, however, are believed to have faced difficulties while navigating inside the Tapovan tunnel. “They were unable to fly inside the Tapovan tunnel and crashed on some occasions,” said an official familiar with the report.

Founder and director of Pune-based Fligen, Aditya Wadhaokar, claimed that his company’s Chinese-made drones performed better. “It was disheartening to witness that Indian drones were crashing while Chinese drones managed to fly properly inside the tunnel. There were multiple challenges but we can gain from Chamoli’s experience and use drones for mapping to be better prepared for future disaster strategies,” he said.

“We were called by NDRF and AGNIi to play a critical role in search and rescue operations. Our drones could assess the damage done to the thermal power projects,” said IIT -Kanpur associate professor Abhishek.

He is involved in making indigenous drones.

Accelerating Growth of New India’s Innovations (AGNIi) is a programme under the Prime Minister’s Science, Technology, and Innovation Advisory Council (PM-STIAC).

Drones were not only used to assess the extent of disaster but to locate bodies that were washed away in the disaster.

“At some locations, we spotted red spots but on close examination, it turned out to be gum secreted out of the trees. We also used GIS maps with help of Drona Maps to provide pre-disaster and post-disaster visuals,” said Wadhaokar.

On February 9, Drona Maps along with Fligen systems used their drones to capture the visuals inside the tunnel, something which was not accessible by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and NDRF teams. “This helped the ground forces to get an exact idea about the extent of debris inside the tunnel and plan their next course of action accordingly,” said the IIT-Kanpur associate professor, adding that the micro drones used by them were 15x15 cm weighing 100-150 grams, with a high resolution digital camera.