While claiming that “drone technology poses a significant threat to governments…”, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs urged the Ministry of Home Affairs to create a pool of anti-drone technology and let all States and Union Territories access it. The committee also sought and received information from several States, including West Bengal and Punjab, regarding the steps taken to deal with drone attacks.
These recommendations and inquiries are part of the committee's 237th report on Police — Training, Modernisation and Reforms, released in February 2022. They come at a time when the Indian government has been trying to give the sector a boost through its Drone Rules – 2021, and the more recent PLI Scheme for Drones. In addition, there has also been a growing impetus for the use of drones in varied industries, including agriculture and health (medicine delivery).
“The Committee... recommends that the MHA may take up with concerned Ministries/Agencies to create a central pool of anti-drone technology at the earliest and give its access to all States/UTs to deal with the menace of illicit use of drones. For this purpose, the participation of the private sector may be explored,” the report said.
The committee also expressed its “grave concern” over the use of drones in crimes, transporting drugs, arms and ammunition. “The Committee recommends that the MHA along with the Ministry of Civil Aviation may advise States to sensitize ground-level police personnel on the drone regulations. This may include the civilian use of drones which will help in detecting rogue drones,” the report added.
It also recommended that the MHA coordinate with concerned ministries/agencies and States and Union Territories to create standard operating procedures (SOP) to be followed by State police in case of a drone attack. These recommendations come nearly a year after a drone attack targeted an Air Force base in Jammu, causing two explosions.
The committee comprises of Rajya Sabha MP Anand Sharma, P Bhattacharya, Lok Sabha MPs Sanjay Bhatia, Dulal Chandra Goswami and others. It is this committee which had earlier recommended that virtual private networks (VPNs) be banned in the country, according to a report by MediaNama.
Industry says anti drone tech will prove useful in the long run
“The police have been frustrated by smaller drones, because it is a small technology for which there is barely anything through which it can be tracked. For larger drones, say, for instance, 15-20 kg, there are still some advanced warning systems, or control signals that can help people understand that there is a fast moving object in the vicinity,” says Tanuj Bhojwani, fellow at iSpirt.
“In the long run, these same technologies, which will help you in detecting drones and so on, will help you in traffic management. Today we are at a point where there are a few drones flying, but in the future if there are thousands of drones in the air, the problem will be to ensure that you don't have sky accidents and so on,” Bhojwani adds.
Manavendra Prasad, Director (operations) at AvTech Forum of India (ATFI), does not see anti-drone tech impacting the use of drones or on lay citizens owning drones. “Anti-drone tech is essentially designed to guard against unscrupulous people, who take advantage of a system where it is impossible to track drones every time,” he explains. Prasad adds that this would also open up avenues to develop products that counter anti-drone technology.
How States responded to the panel’s queries
Officials from Rajasthan informed the committee that regular instructions/advisories were issued to various departments in bordering areas about not sharing strategic information with anyone on phone calls, unless authenticated.
“Various vital installations, Army/Air Force bases, Oil Refinery areas and other similar strategic places, have been classified as Red Zone (no flying zones for drones), Yellow Zone (where drones could operate with permission and Green Zone (where permission is not required),” the report said, with regard to the steps taken by Rajasthan.
Andhra Pradesh informed the committee that Additional Directors General of Police (ADGP) - Operations have been nominated as nodal officers to address potential drone attacks. “Strict watch and vigilance are being maintained on all vital installations by the concerned SSP (Senior Superintendent of Police). Apart from the above, guidelines issued by MHA on Red, Green and Yellow zones for drones are being followed, the report said.
In Assam, the report said that the Superintendent of Police was advised to identify abandoned airstrips, open grounds and spaces “that may facilitate launching of flying objects and to suitably secure such places by the deployment of security forces…”
“Besides, Security forces deployed for guarding of vital installations have been sensitized regarding the threat from drone attacks and security of vital installations of national importance has been augmented especially the vulnerable oil installations, rail and road bridges which are already having a threat from extremist elements," the report added.
With regard to Punjab, it said: "Punjab has not drafted or articulated a separate police drone policy. However, specific area-based detection and neutralization of threats of drones are available and being improved upon. However, larger areas like borders remain a challenge. This is being done by physical patrolling and nakabandi by police which is backed by effective intelligence inputs.” The State informed the committee that drones had been sighted near the international border over 133 times in the last two years.
In West Bengal, the report said that its Intelligence Branch has prepared geo-coordinates of vital installations in the form of red and yellow zones. Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh informed the committee that they were in the process of formulating the zones.
New drone rules
In 2021, the Civil Aviation ministry passed the Drone Rules, 2021, replacing the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Rules, 2021. Under the current regime, the government, in a statement on August 25, 2021, reduced the fee to operate a drone to nominal levels and de-linked it from the size of the drone.
It also reduced the number of forms/permissions to operate a drone in India from 25 to 5 and also clarified that no security clearance will be required before registration or license issuance for a drone.The rules had abolished the requirement of various approvals, including certificate of conformance, certificate of maintenance, import clearance, operator permits, authorisation of an R&D organisation etc, the government said.