“Innovation” is something which is not bounded by the limits and does not aim to take a break. Surfacing of innovations like that of self-driven cars, cloud computing, ‘Machine to Machine’, Internet are a few examples which establish the limitless nature of innovations. These technological innovations are advancing human lives to whole new dimensions.
Inventions of Unarmed Aerial Vehicles colloquially known as drones impacted both military and commercial domains. Government and militaries across the world have been employing drones to prevent infiltrations from their international counterparts and other law enforcement purposes.
Regarding applicability in commercial wing, several brands are using drones for delivery of products to end-consumers, capturing aerial view. The growing prospects of expanded use of drones have raised considerable amount of concerns for lawmakers and privacy watchdogs.
The present article seeks to analyse the increasing business applications of drone technology in various sectors, the regulations issued by the government for enforcement and regulation of drone usages in India. In addition to this, a brief discussion on how drones have emerged as frontline warriors during the COVID crises.
To welcome this initiative, government has launched a portal (GARUD portal) for authorization of drones. In this regard, the Government of India exercising the powers vested in it under Rule 160 of the Aircraft Rules, 1937, released an Exemption Notice, for granting conditional exemptions to government agencies from certain compliances for operating RPAS as applicable under existing drone laws.
Despite several advantages of the drones, it is pertinent to not sideline the misuses followed from the technology. The last portion of the paper deals with the emerging challenges faced by the market and the individual user; and the available possible remedies to face these challenges and way forward.
UAS APPLICATION IN INDIA- CURRENT TREND
UAS/UAV is basically any aircrafts that does not have human pilot. UAS have marked its utility in various sectors ranging from recreational to commercial to military purposes. However, not all the drones serving the aforementioned purposes are governed by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
UAS are equipped with incredibly high resolution cameras, which help them get a close and accurate view of the structure even from considerably large distance. Hence, they are primarily used for extensive visual inspection of places where it is difficult to reach by the traditional means. Compared with the means to traditional inspection, the use of UAS is both economically- time efficient and safe.
UAS has been used to locate the victims during the natural disasters by the specialised force constituted for the purpose of specialised response to a threatening disaster situation or disaster like situation.
Indian Railways have been using drones for the inspection and tracing of progress of its mega project. The largest state-owned natural gas processing and distribution company GAIL India Ltd. has been using UAS based system to enhance the surveillance of its network of gas transmission pipelines.
National Highways Authority of India, carrying out sovereign function for constructions and maintenance of highways under the authority of government of India had used drones extensively for 3D digital mapping for the road widening project of Allahabad Highway. The data collected by drones was used for calculation of compensation for citizens with the property rights along the Highway, thus reducing the human error and ensuing an expedite procedure for granting of compensation.
Indian state-controlled coal mining company had taken an initiative for survey of coal for the assessment of greenery restoration post excavation from mines. Drones are also used by many health facilities for quick delivery of donated organs or urgent requirement of a particular blood sample, thereby avoiding the expense of hiring air transport or the usage of medical corridor which is not really time-efficient.
On the similar front e-commerce such as Amazon have launched drone delivery. Prime air is a drone delivery service currently in development by Amazon. The service is yet to materialize. Likewise, there have a been a number of Indian Governmental Agencies and Public Sector Undertakings they have piloted and taken up operations with the help of UAS.
Drones have now gained popularity in the eyes of the public and garnered support from the potential market. Hence, it is now a mandate for a timely institution of robust and flexible mechanism for enforcement of regulations.
In 2014 DGCA issued a public notice, imposing a blanket ban on the civil use of drones in the interest of national security, subject to further guidelines. DGFT also restricted the import of drones. Thus, the civilian use and imports of drones was barred, failing to support the full potential of this technology.
Subsequently, in December 2018 DGCA took a more progressive stance, it was acknowledged that drones have potential civil uses and imposing a blanket ban was not justified. Post this public notification, draft regulations were issued stating the future prospects of use of drone technology in India. This set of regulations was a serious challenge for compliance arising from a licensing regime.
The draft proposes a regulatory technology solution to these challenges, namely Digital Sky, which operates as a platform for convenient filing of paperwork to obtain unique identification numbers and operators’ permits. These identification numbers and permits are a prerequisite for most remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) operations under the regulations.
The guidelines have categorised the drones under five categories – nano (250 grams or less), micro (250grams to 2 kilograms), small (2 kilograms to 25 kilograms), medium (25 kilograms to 150 kilograms), and large (greater than 150 kilograms). It is mandatory to register the drones over 2 kilograms in weight. It was also laid down that the drones are to be flown within the visual line of sight (VLOS) only. These regulations also present a window for future innovation in this sector, including test bed locations for experimental projects.
To liberalize this regime and tap the potential uses of drone especially for the commercial purposes, a special task force was constituted under the chairmanship of Hon’ble Minister of state for Civil Aviation. In the lines of the recommendation of task force, the drone ecosystem policy Roadmap was released by the Ministry of Civil Aviation dates January 19, 2019. It is majorly focused on addressing challenging issues such as Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) and Autonomous operations.
In 2019, Ministry of Civil Aviation also released the National Counter Rogue Drone guidelines with an aim to address the perceived law and order and national security issues which have surfaced in various jurisdictions due to unregulated and unchecked operations of drones.
The guidelines inter alia lay out the measures such as prevention deterrence and denial for assessing threat by drone, create awareness about the various technologies involved in handling of drone threat, ready reckoner for anti-drone measures and understanding multi-dimensionality of drone threats.
Despite stringent regulations, various unmanned aircrafts and drone can be seen operating without complying with the defined prerequisites. Focusing on the enforcement part of the guidelines, MoCA issued a public notice dated January 13, 2020, giving a one time opportunity to the un-regulated and non-complying drones to disclose voluntary. As per the public notice issued, all the persons in possession of impugned drones can submit the required information through an online portal.
In an event of non-compliance with the aforementioned provision, the UIN/UAOP which is a mandatory pre-requisite for operating drones stands suspended. Breach attract penalties under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (“IPC”) inter alia Section 287 (negligent conduct with respect to machinery), Section 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others), Section 337 (causing hurt by endangering life or personal safety of others), Section 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) and any other relevant section of the IPC. The Local Police Office shall have jurisdiction for enforcement of violations of provisions of the IPC. It is also provided that necessary actions may be taken as per the Section 11 of the Aircraft Act, 1934 and Section 161 of the Aircraft Rules 1937 or any statutory provisions.
UAS: FRONTLINE WARRIOR DURING COVID CRISES
The global outbreak of COVID-19, where ‘Touch me not’ is a new normal, has forced the doctors and other frontline workers to break away from the past and adopt measures that redefines our present and craves a better future. During this pandemic, drone technology has proven its abilities to reduce the need of physical presence of individuals and successfully take up operations without human presence.
To welcome this initiative MoCA and DGCA launched a portal known as GARUD for government authorization for the reliefs provided by drones. The portal ensures the fast track process for granting the determined exceptions to government agencies across India for conducting pandemic related operations successfully without keeping the health of many frontline warriors at stake.
However, ensuring that the procedure is expedite, no stringent timeline is given. In this regard, the Government of India exercising the powers vested in it under Rule 160 of the Aircraft Rules, 1937, released a public notice (“Exemption Notice”), for granting conditional exemptions to government agencies from certain compliances for operating RPAS as applicable under existing drone laws.
This exemption notice restricts the operation of drones within the visual line of sight and a height of 200 feet above the ground limit and only during the day time. Nevertheless, it is still a progressive step which will not only aid in disaster management but also provide a timely opportunity for private sector participation.
Absence of adequate safeguards and stringent regulations the legalisation of civil use of drones have raised various concerns. It can be broadly categorised them as following-
1. Unauthorized Surveillance
Drones are the most suitable invention so far for mass surveillance and collection of detailed and precise data. In the name of national security and terrorism, the mechanism of Drones with the impeccably high resolution cameras can be used to track the profiles and aggregate personal data of people by both states and private agencies. Drones can be equipped with fake towers which can break Wi-fi code and intercept text messages and cell phones without the knowledge and consent of other.
Drones equipped with advanced technologies can penetrate test networks and collect unencrypted data and even establish fake access points. Such unwarranted surveillance casts chilling effects on the citizen’s civil liberties, intellectual privacy eclipse people’s right to dissent.