This Article is written by Vedant Tapadia, a student of Hidayatullah National Law University. The article was written on Drone Laws in India
Albert Einstein, a German-born theoretical physicist, amidst all his scientific theories and inventions once said that “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” Though the above line was spoken in a different social context, its real meaning has started to become apparent only in recent times with the rapid advancements to technology. All inventions, no matter when or where, have had one thing in common, they all take place in order to satisfy a persistent and urgent need of society. Humans needed to transport over long distances, the wheel was invented. Humans wanted to communicate over long distances, the telephones were invented, so on and so forth. So, how can something tailor to suit the needs of the society, a solution to a problem, have anything but a positive impact?
A brief about drones and the status of drone laws/regulations in India
The noticeable trend is that even though these Inventions bring a positive change in society, they also have some negative effects which result from its exploitation and overuse. While it is true that inventions reform the social structure and make it easier for society to function, it is also true that these technological advancements introduce various new arenas where humans could face a violation of their human rights. With the rapid flux of inventions, humans are also exposed to a number of new interactions with the society or the technology itself, and risk getting exploited and their rights getting violated during such interactions. Such interactions arising out of technological advancements and Inventions need to be regulated through the command of the Sovereign and by enacting legislation the absence of which creates confusion and conflict in the society.
Such is the invention of the “Unmanned Aerial Vehicle” (UAV) or as it is popularly called, “Drones”. The Federal Aviation Administration estimates more than 2 million drones are in use across the U.S. as of year’s end 2019. Of those, around 1.3 million are owned for recreational use. Unfortunately, with advancements in technology, there are often dangers when the devices advance faster than the safeguards put in place for customers. The expanding use of drones has raised a field of concern for the lawmakers owing to its potential of violating human rights and to abrupt the promises made by the constitution.“With drones, whatever security you thought you had, is gone,” declares Kunal Jain from the drone security company Dedrone (San Francisco). With millions of drones entering the global airspace every month, the concern of lawmakers keeps growing and a need for dedicated Legislation to keep drone regulation in check is felt, governing and regulating the functioning of these drones so as the avoid any potential violation of rights.
Imagine any violation of human rights, as worse as possible, and it could probably be done using a drone. The human rights violation that can be inflicted using drones is ever-increasing and drones pose a wide array of threats to society. These threats or dangers from the operation of drones have been classified as the 4 C(s)[Curious, Clueless, Careless and Criminal], the first 3 C(s) while not dangerous in themselves, do pose a threat to the day to day functioning of life and can disrupt life in a big way. The 4th C, on the other hand, is the most dangerous one, because these acts are not just disruptive but also mala fide in nature used with nefarious intentions to achieve illicit and illegal goals.
Concerns leading to need for Drone Regulations
Such concerns have led some to call for drone legislation mandating that nearly all uses of drones be prohibited unless the government has first obtained a warrant. However, whenever a problem arises, a solution soon follows. There needs to proper drone regulations in place which prescribe the rules and guidelines regulating the functioning and usage of these inventions. Mitigating the dangers that these drones pose to humans and to the enjoyment of their rights these Legislations will work as armor. According to India’s national aviation authority, the Ministry of Civil Aviation, flying a Drone is legal in India, but being aware of drone laws is recommended.
In 2014, India imposed a sudden ban on the use of civil drones. This came after a Mumbai based Pizzeria tried to use an unmanned vehicle to air-drop pizzas in its vicinity. After which the next development was seen when the regulatory framework for drones was issued by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (“DGCA“) on August 27, 2018, by way of Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR), Section 3 – Air Transport Series X, Part I, Issue I (“Drone Regulations“) for legalizing and regulating the operation of drones for civil use in India. To elucidate the confusion in the field of Drones and to liberalize the use of Drones so as to tap the potential uses of drones especially for commercial purposes, the Ministry of Civil Aviation constituted a drone task force under the chairmanship of Hon’ble Minister of State for Civil Aviation. Accordingly, on the basis of the recommendations of the task force, the Drone Ecosystem Policy Roadmap was released by the Ministry of Civil Aviation on January 15, 2019. Subsequently, several new initiatives were launched by the authorities focused on capacity building of the drone ecosystem in 2019 and this trend continues in 2020.
Status of Drone Regulations in India
Since the Drone culture in India is still young and microscopic, the Indian government and its lawmakers have tried to maintain a rigid framework for its usage in turn maintaining the legality of its actions. For example, the Indian government has started a website called “Digital Sky” and any drone which wants to legally function and fly under the suggested drone regulations in India, it needs to be registered on this website. Further, a requirement has been made under the new No Permission No Take-off (“NPNT”) rule under which all drones have to first ask permission to take-off in the specific area before flying and cannot be used if the permission has not been granted by the concerned authorities.
More adaptation and mitigation measures have been taken and put in place to avoid any violation of human rights, such as the division of drones into various categories based on its weight and the minimum age limit of the pilot who wishes to fly one of these machines. However, some flexibility has been provided in the laws and can be seen in cases of “Nano category of Drones” which are drones with a net weight of fewer than 250 grams and can be used without registration on the “Digital Sky” website. In 2019, the Ministry of Civil Aviation (“MoCA“) also released the National Counter Rogue Drone Guidelines (“NCRD Guidelines“) with an aim to address the perceived law and order and national security issues that are anticipated due to unregulated and unchecked operation of drones.
Hence, as much as the future for civilian use of drones looks bright, with drones no longer being comprehended as a military and espionage weapon but rather as a tool for civilians and their enjoyment, the usage of the same has been so widespread that without stringent management and regulations laws and guidelines in place, it can also act as an instrument of lawlessness and can easily result in violations of not just human rights but the sovereignty of the state itself. It is apparent that along with the consumers, the Government has started seeing and recognizing the value of utilizing Drones especially for commercial purposes and as a result, with the evolution of Drone industries in India, the Laws and regulations that govern its usage must also evolve simultaneously and must continue to evolve because it is only when things go wrong that machines remind us how powerful they are.
- Brian Buntz, IoT of Things, 8 Drone related security dangers, Available at: https://www.iotworldtoday.com/2017/03/09/8-drone-related-security-dangers/
- Charles Werner, Gov loop, The challenges and potential dangers of Drones, Available at: https://www.govloop.com/community/blog/the-challenges-and-potential-dangers-of-drones/.
- Gregory Mcneil, Drones and aerial surveillance: Considerations for legislatures, Available at : https://www.brookings.edu/research/drones-and-aerial-surveillance-considerations-for-legislatures/
- Harshil Agarwal, Mondaq, Drone Law & Policy Developments In India – Welcoming Drones In 2020, Available at: https://www.mondaq.com/india/aviation/885694/drone-law-policy-developments-in-india-welcoming-drones-in-2020 .
- HG org, Dangers associates with Drones, Available at: https://www.hg.org/legal-articles/dangers-associated-with-drones-42303.
- UAV Coach, Indian Drone Regulations, Available at: https://uavcoach.com/drone-laws-in-india/#:~:text=A%20permit%20is%20required%20for,more%20than%20400%20feet%20vertically. .