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Farmer’s Protest Exclusive: Drones Used by Police over Protesting Farmers Were Not Authorized to Fly; Reveals RTI

Pronami Chetia
Pronami Chetia
Farmers Protest

Amid the intensifying farmer’s protest, RTI filed by an autonomous body has revealed some shocking facts against the Police. As per report, the drones that the police flew over farmers protesting against the recently enacted farm laws were illegal — their use was never authorized by the Civil Aviation Ministry, or the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), both entities which regulate drone use in the country, reveals an RTI filed by Media Nama.

It’s a worrying example of the amount of discretion available to on-ground police personnel — especially when it’s about using tech to carry out mass surveillance, says the organization.

The protests against the farm laws have broken out since November last year, and as farmers started their march towards Delhi, the police had deployed drones to monitor the situation. As per reports, both Delhi and Haryana Police were present at the protests.

The autonomous body filed the RTI in December, with the Civil Aviation Ministry, and the DGCA, asking for a list of all the organisations they had allowed to fly drones between October and December 2020, along with a copy of the authorisation letters issued to these organisations. 

In response to the RTI, the Civil Aviation Ministry said it had exempted the following organisations to deploy drones during that time period. As is evident, no police force was allowed by the Civil Aviation Ministry to deploy drones: 

  • Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Akademi (IGRUA)

  • Odisha Mining Corporation Ltd. (OMC)

  • National Capital Region Transport Corporation (NCRTC)

  • Global Konnect Aviation Services Pvt. Ltd.

  • National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC)

  • CEPT University

  • International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)

The DGCA revealed that between October and December 2020, it had issued just one authorisation letter — to the Survey of India, presumably to carry out the Svamitva scheme, which is an ambitious large scale land mapping initiative of the Indian government. However, the regulator refused to give out a copy of the authorisation letter saying that it is “Third party information”, and is therefore exempted from disclosure under the RTI Act. 

As per current drone rules, only drones compliant with a standard called “no permission, no take off” (NPNT) are allowed to fly in the Indian airspace. NPNT is essentially an automated green signal without which drones aren’t authorized to fly. It is mandatory to obtain an authorization from the government to fly a drone.

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