Police forces across the country are deploying a new anti-crime weapon in their armoury—to fight the coronavirus.Whether in Nizamuddin, Delhi, where thousands gathered for a religious event, or in Etawah, Uttar Pradesh, police forces are increasingly turning to drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to surveil populations and prevent the buildup of crowds during the three-week lockdown.“It has become a regular part of policing. In the current lockdown, we are flying drones over places where we suspect violations of the lockdown can occur. We identify those places and ensure that police is deployed and those who violate the lockdown are booked. It is a great tool in situations where physical contact is to be avoided or minimized,” said Akash Tomar, senior superintendent of police, Etawah district, which has three drones. He said the UP police had used UAVs during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests as well.In the national capital, police now rely on drones as a key surveillance instrument to keep tabs on people’s movement during the lockdown.Drones were used in the Nizamuddin Markaz late in March to identify spots where the Tablighi Jamaat attendees had been staying in order to sanitize and seal those areas.“Drones are being used for monitoring purposes. Pickets have been set up along main roads and other arterial carriageways. But there are reports we get of citizens defying the lockdown. The police can’t be everywhere, so remote monitoring is also needed. We have also requested resident welfare associations (RWAs) to keep a close vigil,” said a senior Delhi police officer, who did not wish to be identified.Delhi police had also used drones in the Chand Bagh, Karawal Nagar and Shiv Vihar areas to identify houses where arms used in the recent riots had allegedly been stored.The Uttar Pradesh police has begun to employ drones to monitor activity in the Gautam Buddh Nagar district and check the spread of the coronavirus.“Drones give us a bird’s eye view of who is defying the lockdown in the narrow alleys and lanes where a PCR van cannot go in. We have repeatedly appealed to citizens to stay in, but despite that, many are defying the lockdown,” said a senior UP police official, who did not wish to be named.Delivering medical supplies to hot spots and disinfecting public spaces using sprayers without risk of contamination for personnel are among other uses of drones, according to Mahesh Makhija, partner and leader of digital and emerging technology at EY India. "Drones backed by advanced analytics can play a vital role in the containment of the virus in India. Obviously this also raises significant concerns related to citizen privacy. A balance will need to be struck within a robust framework that recognizes citizen rights while seeking community welfare,” said Makhija.Gireesh Chandra Prasad contributed to this story.