Government agencies and critical industries should be given blanket exemptions from restrictions regarding drones till December 31 so that these devices can be used freely during the COVID-19 pandemic, industry body FICCI stated in its recommendations to the central government on Saturday.
"Currently, drones are only allowed to legally fly using permission from Digital Sky (online platform) in six small green zones in remote rural areas of the country. This is insufficient to address the numerous challenges faced by our country in the time of this crisis," stated the FICCI's committee on drones.
The committee stated that a critical industry like the oil and gas sector has not been permitted till date for drone-based surveillance of cross-country pipeline networks, and its previous attempts to seek waiver from government regulations have proven to be unsuccessful.
Therefore, the FICCI said the law enforcement agencies, municipal corporations, fire departments, forest departments, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), critical industries, etc, should be given blanket exemptions from government restrictions till December 31, 2020, to "augment available manpower and prevent risk of human life" amid the pandemic.
The safety risk associated with the usage of drones, also called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), for the aforementioned purposes during the COVID-19 lockdown is miniscule as there are very few "civil manned aircraft" in operation, it said. Moreover, there are very few people in public areas whose safety could be affected by drone flights, it noted.
India has been under a lockdown since March 25 to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has infected around 40,000 people and killed more than 1,300 people in the country till now. All commercial passenger flights have been suspended for the lockdown period. However, cargo flights, medical evacuation flights and special flights permitted by the aviation regulator DGCA are allowed to operate.
It is estimated that the number of commercial and recreational drones in India is around 2 lakh and therefore, the government should restart the voluntary registration of non-compliant drones, the FICCI committee recommended. When the Civil Aviation Ministry opened a window from January 13 to January 31 to register non-compliant drones, only 19,553 of them were registered. "Many companies and individuals were not able to register their drones on Digital Sky portal due to some technical issues on the website (between January 13 and January 31)," the FICCI noted.
The committee also recommended that drone services to government agencies and enterprises, which are involved in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, should be included by the Ministry of Home Affairs as "essential goods and services". There has been a general reduction in available manpower for maintaining law and order situation during COVID-19 crisis, which has led to an increase in illegal activities, stated the FICCI. "Drones have proven effective as a force multiplier in augmenting the reduced manpower to maintain security requirements," it noted.