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Emails reveal how the government finalised exemptions for deploying drones for COVID-19

Email conversations and notings between the Civil Aviation Ministry and the DGCA, the civil aviation regulator, obtained from RTI documents, revealed that rules for exempting drones to be used for COVID-19 surveillance were finalised and published in less than three weeks. A platform to obtain these conditional exemptions, called GARUD, was made ready by NIC following beta testing in less than two weeks, the RTI showed. The emails also revealed that an effort was made to not make the drone operations “too restrictive”, and that the DGCA was wary of allowing deliveries via drones, even though the Ministry wanted to exempt that. The government had on May 2 published an order allowing authorised government agencies to apply for exemptions to deploy drones for COVID-19 surveillance. The exemptions also allowed government bodies to authorise third-party drone service providers to operate drones on their behalf. The RTI, filed by Srinivas Kodali, an independent researcher, showed that before the final order was released, at least two iterations of it were prepared following emails and meetings between the Ministry and DGCA officials. While the RTI presents a good enough picture to ascertain the discussions that took place before the exemptions were finally granted, readers should note that the information revealed by the notings in this RTI does not contain attachments sent as part of emails, or discussions that happened in person or on phone. The verbatim text of initial draft orders are also not in these documents. These are the notes made by the…

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