In the year 2014, the Ministry of Civil Aviation had imposed a blanket ban on
the use of civilian drones[i]. Later, draft regulations were formulated, and
after many shortcomings, in December 2018, the first drone regulation in India
came into effect. The legal framework took a progressive
stand and aimed at addressing the grey areas after this, bringing into effect
the new Drones Rules 2021[ii]. In India, the use of drones for civilian purposes
is allowed. It is mandatory to follow certain guidelines while operating a drone
in the country[iii].
This paper intends to analyze and focus on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and
their regulatory landscape in India, and make a comparison between the Drone
Rules 2021 and the regulatory framework that existed prior to this, in order to
highlight the key differences. Further, the researcher aims to shed light on the
privacy and public safety concerns raised by the civil use of UAVs.
The explanatory theory focuses on increasing the understanding of complex,
confusing events or concepts. This is done by showing the conceptual relations
and differences, providing frameworks for interpreting data[iv]. Explanatory
theory can help in understanding the validity of a law and the legal structure.
Explanatory theory can be used to understand the existing legal structure and to
determine its validity.
Normative Jurisprudential Theories, explore the integrity of legal ideas to
provide tests and
theories on the justifiability of law[v]. The normative theory of law came into
existence in the early twentieth century. Lawyers analyze the integrity of legal
ideas and legal reasoning to rationalize the legal doctrine. There didn't exist
any legal methodology prior to this theory; due to this, there arose no conflict
between the both. The normative theory has indeed helped fill the gap that
existed in the science of law and filled it [vi]. Normative theory can be used to
analyze the applicability of the new legal frameworks.
The research questions are backed up based on the theories identified, to
analyze the validity of the existing legal framework and to determine its
applicability, especially to address the privacy concerns that are raised.
Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, Rahul Krishna, Drones: Guidelines, Regulations,
and Policy Gaps in India, Observer Research Foundation, 2018[vii]
The policies regarding drone regulation were in their evolving phase while this
paper was written. The paper analyzed the policy gaps and argued against the
unregulated use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAA) or drones. As technology is
evolving at a rapid pace, so should the laws regulating it. Otherwise, there
will be an impact on the company's security in multiple ways. The paper also
analyses various international regulatory frameworks.
Ananth Padmanabhan, Civilian Drones and India's Regulatory Response, Carnegie,
The access of airspace by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or drones for civilian
use can raise various security concerns. While this paper was written, there
wasn't a clear set of regulatory guidelines regarding the use of drones in
India. The first comprehensive legislation relating to drones in India was the
Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) 2018[ix], which came into force in December
The paper argued that there should be an appropriate regulatory mechanism
and proper rules regarding the use of Drones in India. The author touches upon a
number of concerns on the use of drones. One of them is using drones as lethal
weapons, and reference is made to the use of killer drones by the US military.
Various policy recommendations are proposed in the paper.
Aishath Alsan Sadiq, The Doom of Drones: An Exploration of Policy Gaps in
During the period of publication, only the draft regulations for drones by the
Directorate General of Civil Aviation were published. The paper argues that
these guidelines passed by the DGCA in 2017 to be insufficient and that it
doesn't ensure security and privacy. The paper addressed various policy gaps
such as trespass, surveillance, privacy, quality/ control of imports, legal
liability, standard operating protocol, etc. Even though there existed a lot of
policy gaps and ambiguities, as a first stage in draft regulations the
regulations cannot be completely ruled out as inefficient.
Ridha Aditya Nugraha, Deepika Jeyakodi, Thitipon Mahem, Urgency for Legal
Framework on Drones: Lessons for Indonesia, India, and Thailand [xi]
The paper points out the importance for regulatory policies and mechanisms as
the technology grows. The existing legal framework of Indonesia, India and
Thailand is compared in this paper. Policy suggestions are given and the need
for standard, uniform regulations are pointed out.
In light of all the above, rapid advancement in technologies related to Unmanned
Aerial Vehicles (UAV) can be seen over the past few years. The paper argues that
the legislation regulating these UAVs has not been evolving at the same pace.
Drone based application in the field of infrastructure(45.2%) and agriculture
(32.4%) has seen the most rapid growth in India.
There exist legislative gaps
and ambiguities regarding various aspects related to the operation, possession,
manufacturing, and importing of UAVs. The advancement of technology along with
the ease of accessibility of drones to the customers has increased the security
risks associated with the usage of drones in the airspace. Public safety and
privacy for example are some of the key concerns that have not been addressed
comprehensively so far.
An analysis of the Indian regulatory landscape
The first comprehensive legislation relating to drones in India was the Civil
Aviation Requirements (CAR) 2018, which came into force in December 2018. Prior
to this, there was no well-defined legislation on the use of drones. There
existed a blanket ban on civilian drones in India by the Ministry of Civil and
As a result of commercial drones being legal in India, there was an
improvement in efficiency in various fields such as agriculture, surveillance,
forest, media, disaster management etc[xii]. As the use of drones became
widespread, it has been used in various fields of operation. Use of drones for
'last-mile' logistics by companies such as Amazon, Flipkart, Google, United
Parcel Services (UPS), DHL etc, is one prominent example.
While looking into
the use of drones for the 'last-mile' logistics, there are various positive
aspects to this, such as reduce in energy consumption, air pollution, road
congestion etc[xiii]. The potential of drones being used is really high, some
key sectors are- agriculture, infrastructure, media and entertainment, insurance
and mining[xiv]. After Civil Aviation Requirements 2018 was enacted, a task
force was created keeping in mind the regulations, further policy
recommendations, promotion and manufacturing of drones etc. This was led by the
Minister of State for Civil Aviation.
Followed by the Civil Aviation Requirements 2018, the UAS Rules 2021 came into
force on 12th March 2021. Much effective legislation soon replaced this, that
is, the Drones Rules, 2021.
- In China, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), permits the
flying of drones in China; however, there are certain compliances
- In the United Kingdom, the Civil Aviation of the U.K. (CAA) regulates
- In the United States of America the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority
(FAA) regulates the flying of drones.
- In most countries like the United Arab Emirates, Sri Lanka, Saudi
Arabia, Canada etc, it is legal to fly drones. However, in Morocco, the use
of drones is banned. Such that if we take a drone into the country, it will
be seized by the customs authority.
Even after the Civil Aviation Requirements 2018 legislation, there existed many
grey areas and ambiguities related to the use of drones. The UAS Rules 2021 was
put into force by the government on 12th March 2021. Instead of fulfilling the
required amendments, the new rule brought in more complexities to the field of
drone aviation. Various multi-level licensing and different other requirements
were mandated, which made compliance to these practically impossible. And in
case of non-compliance, the penalties were so high that there was no proper cap
Seeking a change to this, the government introduced the new law, the Drones
Rules, 2021. The new legislation strived to achieve a better and healthier
balance between the safety and operability of drones. On 27 June 2021, there
were drone attacks on Jammu Air Force Station; this made the government focus
more on the safety and security risks associated with the operation of drones.
The privacy concern raised by UAVs
Earlier, when we heard the term Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), the mental
picture that was formed was that of a military killing drone, at least for some
of us. There have been huge improvements and developments in this field with
respect to technological advancement; however, the law has not evolved at the
same pace. As decentralized airspace access is provided to UAVs, they are
gradually moving towards the public sphere. The scope of UAV is broad in public
spheres such as agriculture, rescue operations, construction, aerial monitoring
and mapping critical infrastructure, etc.
While arguing for the positive impacts
of the UAVs on the public sphere, we should also look into the counterarguments.
This brings us to the privacy concern that UAVs raise and the need for a
well-defined rule to regulate them.Statistical data can be used to understand
the rapid technological advancement in the field of UAVs. The advancement of
technology along with the ease of accessibility to drones by the customers has
increased the security risks associated with the usage of drones in the
airspace. Public safety and privacy should be addressed through comprehensive
The right to privacy was recognized as a constitutional right of the citizens
in Justice K. S. Puttaswamy v Union of India[xv]. The right to privacy can be
violated in some instances where drones invade into the privacy of people. The
operator of the UAV should be responsible as to ensure that the privacy norms
are to be followed and not to be compromised in any manner. The legislation
related to drones at present does not address any privacy concerns. There are no
clear punitive sanctions in case of privacy violations.
Though the Drone Rules 2021 does not address privacy separately, there are other
legislations that are related to the subject matter of privacy. Though these
laws address privacy as a whole, when it comes to UAVs the laws get vague and it
will be difficult for the court to interpret these laws. The judgment given
in Justice K. S. Puttaswamy v Union of India, is the only jurisprudence shedding
light on the privacy regulations.
These ambiguities in privacy concerns of UAVs can also be used by the government
authorities for mass surveillance. One common instance across India during
COVID-19 pandemic was that of police officials using drones for surveillance and
collecting data in the form of videos to ensure that the lockdown norms were
followed by the people. The UAS Rules 2021 had certain data and privacy
protection measures. But as the UAS Rules 2021 was repealed by the new Drone
Rules 2021, so were the privacy and data protection measures. The new
legislation completely omitted addressing any privacy concerns.
Another important concern that needs to be addressed is the issue of trespass by
UAVs. The rights of the property owners should be protected while also looking
into the technological limitations of the UAVs. And in order to implement
effective legislation, a balance between both of these should be attained.
primary issue while addressing trespass of UAVs is the determination of vertical
extension of a private property. The UAVs should be permitted to fly at a height
where the reasonable use of a property by the owner is not hampered.
Though the legislations related to drones are evolving at a slow pace there are
significant improvements and developments on the same. This can be understood
from the various drone legislations that have been passed.
Judicial Decisions related to UAVs
In the case, Jagdev Damodaram v. Deputy Commissioner of Customs, Cochin
the petitioner who was a non-resident Indian, while returning to India carried a
drone for use at his photo studio. The drone was detained by the customs
department, alleging that the import of drones is prohibited. The petitioner
made a request for release of the drone; however, the authority was forcing the
petitioner to re-export the drone. The case was brought before a single bench
It was argued by the learned counsel for the petitioner that even though
drones came under the restricted category, they weren't prohibited from
importing. And as per Sec. 80 of the Customs Act, 1962, only the import of
prohibited goods can be detained. The council also argued that drones were
available on online shopping and that engineering students used to assemble
drones as part of their study.
The counsel for the respondent argued that according to the notification, the
import of Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) the drones came under the "restricted"
category. It was also argued that for importing drones there required a prior
clearance from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and also license
from Director General Foreign Trade (DGFT). Since the above-mentioned two
requirements for importing drones were not met, the drones brought by the
petitioner came under the category of "Prohibited goods" as defined under the
Customs Act, 1962. The counsel argued that the ignorance of the law is not an
The counsel for the petitioner requested for provisional release of the drone
after the payment of the fine, according to Sec. 110A of the Customs Act and
various other judgments. A counter-argument was raised against the provisional
release, stating that since there was no necessary license and permit required
for the import, it couldn't be granted.
The writ petition was dismissed after hearing the arguments made by both
counsels. The court held that the petitioner was not entitled to a direct
release of the detained goods. At the time of this case, that is, in the year
2017, the use of drones was completely banned in India.
In the case, Alfa Click Innovations v. Commissioner of Customs, Bangalore
the appellant had filed an entry for the clearance of a remote control toy
quadcopter and a remote control toy monster truck, declaring them as toys. The
value of the imported goods was Rs. 2,77,761, involving a duty of Rs. 83,756.
After examination, the toy truck was released, but the quadcopter was kept for
The Director-General of Civil Aviation, New Delhi, which is the
competent authority for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), had issued a
notification stating that they are in the process of formulating regulations on
the use of UAV and till the regulations are launched, no one should launch an
UAV. Further, according to a notification by the Directorate General of Foreign
Trade (DGFT), the import of UAV without prior approval from DGCA and license
from DGFT was classified as "restricted". A penalty of Rs. 17,000 was issued to
The case was brought before a single bench judge. The learned counsel for the
appellant argued that quadcopters were not drones and that they were available
for purchase on online platforms such as Amazon and Flipkart. It was argued that
there existed a clear distinction between drones and quadcopters. He further
argued that the goods imported weighed less than 250 grams and thus falling
under the category of Nano as per the DGCA Guidelines, and thus it required no
Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit.
The counsel for the appellant also pointed
out that according to the classification by Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) Nano, Micro category of UAV has been exempted from obtaining Unmanned Aircraft
Operator permit and Unique Identification Number and can be operated without a
license from DGFT.
The counsel for the defendant argued that the Commissioner (Appeals) had given
reason for confiscation of the goods. It was submitted that the commissioner
relied upon the decision of the High Court of Kerala in the case of Jagdev
Damodaram v. Deputy Commissioner of Customs, Cochin[xviii]. Further, the
defendant's counsel argued that the exceptions for nano and micro category of
UAV were granted by the guidelines, which came into effect on 01/12/2018,
whereas the impugned import was in 2017.
The court held that the drone in question was imported in the year 2017 by the
appellant, during which the import of the same was banned and there existed
restrictions by DGCA and DGFT. The appellant did not have permission from the
DGCA and also did not have any license from DGFT for importing the drone. In
view of the new regulations, the court permitted the confiscated goods to be
exported by the appellant. The penalty which was imposed was set aside by the
court on the grounds that there was no justification for the same.
By looking into these case laws, the impact of the new regulations can be seen;
while earlier the import of drones was completely banned but according to the
new regulations there were certain exemptions made.
India has a long way to go before reaching a well-structured legislation
concerning UAVs. The use of drones for commercial purposes can be seen to have
risen at an alarming rate, and as a result of this, various countries are
struggling to adapt and incorporate new legislations relating to the same. The
researcher suggests a policy, of having centralized guidelines, for the use of
drones. Each country can further develop on these regulatory frameworks.
The law is vague in matters pertaining to privacy violations by UAVs. The law
should elucidate more on the privacy concerns that are being raised and there
should be new policy reforms.
The technologies related to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) are becoming more
advanced with time. While looking into all the legislation related to drones in
India, the evolution and adaptation of the law can be seen. From a blanket ban
on the use of drones to a set of legislation that didn't address every issue
that existed. And later to the present legislation of the Drone Rules, 2021.
There was ambiguity or uncertainty that surrounded the drone industry prior to
the new rules. The new rules have been successful in clearing it to an extent.
However, even now there exist some pertinent concerns such as standards for
imports, privacy, public safety which need to be addressed.
- Padmanabhan, Ananth, et al. Civilian Drones: Privacy Challenges and
Potential Resolution. New America, 2019, pp. 25–37, The Promise of Public
Interest Technology: In India and the United States.
- The Drones Rules, 2021
- Ahirwar, S., Swarnkar, R., Bhukya, S. and Namwade, G., 2019. Application
of Drone in Agriculture. International Journal of Current Microbiology and
Applied Sciences, 8(1), pp.2500-2505.
- Bayles, Michael D. "What Is Jurisprudence About? Theories, Definitions,
Concepts, or Conceptions of Law?" Philosophical Topics, vol. 18, no. 1,
1990, pp. 23–40.
- Kariuki Muigua, Normative Legal Theory: Its Evolution And Search For
Structure And Unity In Law, (Aug. 07, 2018),
- George E. Glos, The Normative Theory of Law, 11 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 151
- Rajagopalan, R. and Krishna, R., 2018. Drones: Guidelines, Regulations,
and Policy Gaps in India. Observer Research Foundation, pp.1-30.
- Padmanabhan, A., 2017. Civilian Drones and India's Regulatory
Response. Carnegie India, pp.1-34.
- Civil Aviation Requirements, Section 3 - Air Transport, Series X Part I,
- Sadiq, A., 2018. The Doom of Drones: An Exploration of Policy Gaps in
India. The Law Brigade, 4(4), pp.1-13.
- Nugraha, R., Jeyakodi, D. and Mahem, T., 2016. Urgency for Legal Framework
on Drones: Lessons for Indonesia, India, and Thailand. Indonesia Law Review,
- Mishra, S., 2019. India and the United States: The Time Has Come to
Collaborate on Commercial Drones. New America, pp.109-119.
- Jones, T., 2017. International Commercial Drone Regulation and Drone
Delivery Services. RAND, pp.1-38.
- Rajagopalan, R.P., & Krishna, R. (2019). India's Drone Policy: Domestic
and Global Imperatives. ICAO Scientific Review: Analytics and Management
Research, 1, 53-68.
- Bhandari, V., Kak, A., Parsheera, S., & Rahman, F. (2017). An Analysis of
Puttaswamy: The Supreme Court's Privacy Verdict. IndraStra Global, (11), 5.
- Jagdev Damodaram v. Deputy Commissioner of Customs, Cochin [2017 (352) ELT
- Alfa Click Innovations v. Commissioner of Customs, Bangalore
- Jagdev Damodaram v. Deputy Commissioner of Customs, Cochin [2017 (352)
ELT 5 (Ker.)]