Comprehensive law needed to regulate drones : The Tribune India

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Comprehensive law needed to regulate drones

Drones have huge potential in fast-growing economies and the job market, warranting due attention from policy-makers.

Comprehensive law needed to regulate drones

Multifaceted: Apart from government agencies, UAVs are also being employed by private players for commercial activities and recreational purposes, necessitating regulation of drone operations. iStock



KP Singh

Former DGP, Haryana

LAST week, a man from Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra district was booked for flying an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) illegally for the supply of medicines. In February, a drone engaged in the home delivery of food items had crashed into an antenna on a rooftop in Gurugram, causing damage to a private property. Terrorists from across the international border use UAVs to drop arms and drugs in our territory. The police are not sure whether to shoot them down. On the other hand, the dropping of tear gas shells on farmers by the Haryana Police at the Punjab-Haryana border evoked sharp reactions from many quarters. All these incidents are proof that UAV-operating procedures are inadequate. Besides, it indicates a tardy implementation of the regulations.

The drone technology has provided easy solutions to many day-to-day administrative and policing problems, aerial photography and videography, transport management, construction support, telecom services, watershed management, disaster management, spraying of pesticides and nutrients on crops, last-mile delivery of services and goods in healthcare and retail logistics, border management and military operations in armed conflict zones.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) launched the ‘Government Authorisation for Relief Using Drones’ (GARUD portal) to fast-track the use of UAVs for aerial surveillance, aerial photography and public announcements during the Covid-19 pandemic. Apart from government agencies, UAVs are also being employed by private players for promoting their commercial activities and for recreational purposes, necessitating close monitoring and regulation of drone operations.

The first regulation governing the application of UAVs in India, the Civil Aviation Requirements-2018 (CAR), was issued by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) under the Aircraft Act, 1934. On March 12, 2021, the CAR was replaced by the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules-2021 (UAS Rules). The UAS Rules prescribe basic regulations regarding the registration, licensing, data protection and privacy measures for operating UAVs. In August 2021, the UAS Rules-2021 were replaced with the liberalised Drone Rules-2021. Drone laws were also amended in 2022, 2023 and 2024 in order to keep pace with the growing demand among the people as well as the industry.

As per the regulations, drones are classified into five categories according to their weight: nano (weighing less than or equal to 250 gm), micro (between 250 gm and 2 kg), small (between 2 kg and 25 kg), medium (25-150 kg) and large (over 150 kg). Registration with the DGCA’s Digital Sky platform is required for all drones, except the nano category.

For obtaining a remote pilot certificate (RPC) to operate UAVs, a candidate must be over 18 years of age and have passed Class X, apart from having completed a mandatory training course from a DGCA-approved institution. The RPC is not needed for operating nano drones and non-commercial micro drones weighing less than 2 kg. Such drones are not allowed to fly above 50 ft from ground level and at a speed of not more than 25 metres per second.

No drone can be allowed to fly above 400 ft vertically; the drone pilot must maintain a direct visual line of sight at all times during the flight. The MoCA has developed an interactive airspace map, indicating the ‘no flying zone’ and other boundary restrictions. UAVs are not allowed to fly over eco-sensitive zones and wildlife sanctuaries without the permission of the authorities; it is also prohibited to fly drones within a radius of 5 km from international airports and 3 km from other civil airports. Drones may be employed for commercial activities only under a permit from the DGCA.

All UAVs, except those falling under the nano category, should have third-party insurance on the pattern of motor vehicles to cover the damages in case of an accident. Operating UAVs while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is prohibited. Further, a drone should not be flown from a moving vehicle, ship or aircraft. Carrying or dropping hazardous material from UAVs is banned. Besides, drones should not be flown over a private property without permission from the owner. Any violation of the conditions for flying may attract penalties under Section 10-A of the Aircraft Act, 1934.

In April 2021, for the purpose of maintaining public order and peace, police forces in the country were exempted from the operation of the UAS Rules. It is yet to be legally examined if the exemption allows cops to drop tear gas shells on a crowd, as such shells fall under the category of ammunition and hazardous substances.

Drones are like the ‘third eye in the sky’. Without adequate safeguards, the expanded use of UAVs and their integration into the national airspace raise a host of concerns with respect to the privacy of individuals. In the absence of legal safeguards, the apex court of France has ruled that the use of drones by the Paris police, even while enforcing Covid lockdown restrictions, was a violation of privacy and personal data protection laws. In England, the Drone and Model Aircraft Code prescribes norms to protect privacy while flying drones.

Until now, UAVs have been treated as a category of aircraft and governed by regulations made under the Aircraft Act, despite the fact that they are totally different in application and working. Drones have huge potential in fast-growing economies and the job market, warranting due attention from policy-makers. A comprehensive special law on all matters relating to drones along the lines of the Motor Vehicles Act is the need of the hour. All genuine concerns relating to privacy and data protection should be addressed by adhering to the requirements of legality, necessity and proportionality.

#Gurugram #Kangra


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