In June 2020, the government published draft drone rules, in an effort to frame dedicated legislation around them. Several people from the industry welcomed the move, admitting that the government was finally “identifying” both the presence and importance of the industry. With COVID-19 related lockdowns in the country, we saw several police forces use drones to surveil streets to enforce the lockdown, while some states used drones to spray disinfectants over areas that were the most vulnerable to the virus. Drones also present an opportunity to carry out deliveries, which can be crucial for use cases such as medicine and other healthcare-related services. Several companies are soon going to experiment with these use cases under a regulatory sandbox.

Despite useful applications, however, drones can also be a privacy threat and have repeatedly been used by law enforcement agencies not only in India but across the world to surveil protestors. Several authorities in India have often not  been forthcoming about the surveillance they conduct, using drones. Keeping that in mind, MediaNama has prepared a guide to drones in India that gives you an overview of the ecosystem, their applications, and concerns around drone use.

1. The regulations

  1. Draft drone rules, 2020 [download]
  2. Drone regulations as mandated in Civil Aviation Requirements in 2018 [download]

2. Key reading material: 

  1. Our summary of the draft drone rules [read]
  2. Our summary of the current drone regulations, enacted in December 2018 [read]
  3. A comparison between the draft rules and current drone regulations by Ikigai Law [read]

3. Comments to the draft drone rules, 2020

  1. Deregulate drone components, and ease restrictions on nano drones: Industry body DFI [read]
  2. Prohibit drone use by law enforcement agencies and integration of drones with facial recognition tech: Internet Freedom Foundation [read]
  3. Minimise use of drones by public & private entities until India has a robust data protection law: Rights group Internet Democracy Project [read]
  4. India should explore remote drone identification instead of mandatory pre-flight clearance: Chinese drone maker DJI [read]
  5. Indian UAS Rules 2020 will facilitate Industrial Revolution 4.0: FICCI [read]
  6. Ikigai Law’s comments to the draft rules [read]

4. Privacy and surveillance 

  1. India using drones to surveil streets amid COVID-19 lockdown [read]
  2. Delhi Police ‘hired’ drones to record assembly elections and Delhi riots: RTI [read]
  3. Delhi Police division denies it used drones to film CAA protestors [read]
  4. The ongoing illegal use of drones for mass surveillance by the Delhi Police needs to be investigated, by Internet Freedom Foundation [read]
  5. Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019: Looking at use of video recordings, facial recognition software and drones by police [read]
  6. Civilian Drones: Privacy Challenges and Potential Resolution [read]

5. COVID-19 and drones

  1. Kerala & Telangana: In Kerala and Telangana, police turn to drones to enforce COVID-19 lockdown [read]
  2. Delhi: Inside the deployment of drones in Delhi to contain COVID-19 [read]
  3. Varanasi: Drones being used to spray disinfectants in Varanasi [read]
  4. Mumbai: Inside the deployment of drones in Mumbai to contain COVID-19 [read]
  5. Amritsar: Drones surveilling Amritsar could detect the distance between humans and send GPS coordinates of lockdown violators to police [read]
  6. GARUD portal: Government agencies can now legally deploy drones for COVID-19 surveillance [read]
  7. Emails reveal how the government finalised exemptions for deploying drones for COVID-19 [read]

6. Drone mapping 

  1. Govt to use drones to map residential properties in rural India, and ascertain land ownership [read]
  2. Targeted procurement, outsourcing, AI/ML: How Survey of India is planning digital mapping of villages using drones [read]
  3. Survey of India floats tenders to procure 260 drones to ‘digitally map’ 6 lakh villages [read]

7. Locusts and drones

Drones were used extensively to tackle the menace of locusts in several parts of the country, and the approvals to deploy drones for these purposes came in the form of conditional exemptions. Here are a few orders that were issued:

  1. Union Agriculture Ministry exempted to use drones against locust attacks (May 21, 2020) [download]
  2. Union Agriculture Ministry obtains conditional exemption from the DGCA to deploy engine-powered drones in the night against the locust attacks (June 27, 2020) [download]
  3. Uttar Pradesh Agriculture department exempted to use drones in anti-locust operations (July 1, 2020) [download]

8. Ecosystem development 

  1. IRDAI forms working group to look into drone insurance [read]
  2. DGCA proposes to allow centre, states, and even private drone companies to set up drone pilot training schools [read]
  3. DGCA approves India’s first drone training school [read]
  4. Phase one of Digital Sky platform to go live on October 2 [read]
  5. Civil Aviation Ministry opens another window for enlisting drones (this is basically an effort to identify legacy drones in the country) [read]

9. Future operations: 

BVLOS, or “beyond visual line of sight” operations are a crucial use case for drones as they enable commercial activities such as deliveries, pipeline inspection, and remote surveillance among other things. Current drone regulations don’t allow BVLOS operations, but the government is going to experiment with it:

  1. DGCA has permitted at least 10 entities to pilot remote drone surveillance, delivery [read]
  2. Draft drone rules may allow drone deliveries, but upcoming BVLOS ops are crucial [read]
  3. Vodafone Idea is entering India’s drone ecosystem, as a partner of a consortium that includes Zomato as well [read]
  4. BVLOS drone operations: Suggestions for India, by Ikigai Law [read]
  5. Telangana government’s medicine from the sky initiative, in partnership with the Word Economic Forum [download]

10. Watch: 

  1. India’s first NPNT (no permission, no takeoff) compliant drone flight enabled by Digital Sky [watch]
  2. The past, present, and future of India’s drones policy (by Ikigai Law’s Anirudh Rastogi) [watch]
  3. The ground issues with manufacturing drones and flying them in India (by Kishore Jonnalagadda of Drone Aerospace Systems, and Shashank Srinivasan of Tech for Wildlife) [watch]

We will keep updating this article with more resources and developments.