Regulations Affecting the Use of Drones in India

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Bankim Chandra Yadav, a Ph.D. student at the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, discusses unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) technological implications under the Indian government laws.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or simply drones have been used in some form in different communities since the 1850s. Usage, size and mechanical bodies have evolved though. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are autonomous bodies capable of flying without a human pilot, in other words, without the presence of such a pilot accommodated within the drone itself. Generally, they are operated by a ground-based controller which serves to provide direction, sustained flight level and other guidelines as per the usage of drone. These remotely operated bodies are increasingly offering cost-effective solutions to cartographers for gathering geographic data. LiDAR and ground-based LASER operated equipment can provide high quality data points which can be mosaiced and used for DEM and ortho-photo generation along with domain specific operations.

While individual researchers and communities find faith in the possibility of high resolution image acquisition and geolocated products via drones, governmental rules and procedures can affect the ability of researchers to take advantage of this technology. India, the biggest constitution of the world takes care of most of the technological infringements where they have socio-economic impacts over her citizens. For every class of UAV there are different set of rules to abide by. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation, India (DGCA) classifies the drones into the following categories:

  • Nano UAVs weigh up to 250 grams,
  • Micro UAVs range from 250g to 2kg,
  • Mini UAVs from 2kg to 25 kg,
  • Small UAVs from 25kg to 150kg,
  • Large UAVs weigh more than 150kg,

Aerial surveying under drones is restricted in India due to privacy and security concerns. DGCA regulatory authority under the Ministry of Civil Aviation, India has banned UAVs since October 2014. Past incidents after this ban in 2014 saw several arrests being made for flying drones. In many cities, violators were booked under various sections of Indian Penal Code (IPC) sc. IPC Section 188 (disobedience to orders duly promulgated by public servants), Section 336 (act endangering life of others) and Section 287 (negligent conduct with respect to machinery).

These acts cover implications but there is no regulation on online sale of drones in India. Drone import is prohibited as per Section 80 of Customs Act, 1962. Ecommerce giant Amazon applied for a patent for its delivery drone system following which DGCA has promulgated a new draft over the use of commercial drones which has finally been set in motion, clearing the way for the use of drones. All drones other than first category require a DGCA registration and a unique identification number just like an automated vehicle. All drones above 2 kg weight requires Air Defence clearance. Remote pilots must be at least 18 years old and have gone through the training process for flying any drone.

The Indian government has also specified certain areas that will remain out of reach for drones. Drones are not permitted to be flown within 5 km radius of an operational airport, 50 km radius of international border including Line of Control (LOC) and 5 km radius around New Delhi’s Vijay Chowk, as a few examples. Also flying over densely populated areas affecting public safety, over eco-sensitive areas like national parks and wildlife sanctuaries is also punishable. Under such strict laws the use of drones for scientific tasks is not barrier free and require several permissions. Usually ‘large’ Indian governmental institutions are granted the safe permissions to officially conduct drone aerial surveying while honoring other IPC and DGCA restraints. The laws for sale and usage implications leave allowances for query.

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