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Why Indian government has given police ‘exemption’ under new drone rules?

The Government of India has granted “conditional exemption” to entities falling under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and police in states and Union Territories to operate drones under the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Rules, 2021. “The Central Government, in exercise of the power conferred under Rule 70 of the UAS Rules, 2021 grants additional exemption to agencies/organizations/departments/entities under the jurisdiction of Ministry of Home Affairs and state/UT police,” read a government document dated April 27, 2021. The document stated that MHA will frame the necessary rules, guidelines and the standard operating procedures concerning drone operations by the exempted entities. The decision comes at a time when several states in India are grappling with a spike in COVID-19 cases, with the healthcare system suddenly coming under tremendous pressure. In the past, there have been several cases of government organizations and police using drones to control the spread of the virus. Use of drones to control COVID-19 Recently, the aviation authorities had granted permission to Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and IIT Kanpur to study if it is feasible to conduct trials for delivery of COVID-19 vaccines using drones. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has also approved Telangana government’s standard operating procedure of doing a feasibility study to use drones under line-of-sight conditions for delivering vaccines. Earlier, In Kerala, the Kochi city police used drones to monitor the city during lockdown and get real-time updates on those who are violating the protocol. The cops were said to be contently monitoring spots like railway stations, bus stands, shopping malls, beaches, parks and places of worship. Similarly, several other Indian states, such as Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh have in the past used drones to spray disinfectants in public areas, government buildings and hospitals. In metro cities like Delhi and Bengaluru, drones with thermal cameras were mounted at certain places to monitor body temperature of people in crowded areas. The North Delhi Municipal Corporation reportedly deployed drones to monitor the body temperature of people standing on the roofs and those identified with abnormal temperatures were requested to get examined. The state police in Maharashtra and Gujarat have been reported to have used drones to conduct aerial surveillance of narrow lanes, as well as to maintain law and order by capturing number plates of vehicles that were violating the lockdown protocol. A powerful technology Drones, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) have been traditionally used by the Armed Forces for military operations. However, in the last decade or so, the UAV technology has rapidly accelerated, and the application areas have quite literally multiplied. Drones are today delivering goods and medicines to people in remote and inaccessible areas, aiding in building healthcare infrastructure, and doing a lot more. Clearly, they have emerged as a powerful technology to deal with an unprecedented health, social and economic crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.

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