The ban on drones in Jammu and Kashmir, which was imposed after twin attacks on an Indian Air Force station on June 27, has dealt a severe blow to young entrepreneurs involved in drone photography and videography in the Union Territory.
A number of educated youngsters in the region have made drone photography and videography their profession. Photographs and footage of a bird’s-eye view of the picturesque Kashmir valley are commissioned by film directors and advertisers. They are also used in tourism campaigns and marriage photography.
Rumaan Hamdani, a 29-year-old entrepreneur, who runs a high-end studio for film production in Srinagar, says the ban had set them back at least six years. “Drone footage or a bird’s-eye view has become very popular in film making and promotions. Whenever people from the film industry came to the Valley to shoot, they would avail our services. We provided them with a drone as well as an operator.”
Officials say decentralised airspace access has to be regulated in view of “recent episodes of misuse of drones posing threat to security infrastructure”.The drone ban is in force in Srinagar, Baramulla, Ganderbal and Bandipora districts in Kashmir division and Ramban, Samba, and Rajouri in Jammu division.
Though the ban is already in place, the civil aviation ministry on July 16 issued Draft Drone Rules, 2021, seeking public consultation before notifying them to replace the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules issued in March.
According to the draft rules, approvals for the unique authorisation number, unique prototype identification number, certificate of conformance, certificate of maintenance, import clearance, acceptance of existing drones, operator permits, authorisation of R&D organisation, student remote pilot licence, remote pilot instructor authorisation, drone port authorisation, etc have been abolished.
‘Only drones can do justice to the Valley’s beauty’
For the past five years, drones have been increasingly used in aerial photography and videography by filmmakers, tourism stakeholders, professional landscape photographers and photojournalists. “Short films, documentaries, wedding events, tourism promotion, landscape photography and even line production in films, all need drones,” Hamdani said.
“Only a drone can do justice to Kashmir’s beauty. The wide and vast landscapes can only be captured using these aerial cameras,” he said.
This technologically advanced field had allowed youngsters to look beyond government-jobs, which are a major source of employment in the conflict-torn state.
After years of applying for government job postings, Tufail Shah, a 30-year-old commerce graduate, decided to buy a camera, lenses and a drone in 2016 to produce videos and landscape photography for the ourism department.
Earnings take a major hit
“I made a respectable earning shooting in remote places, high-altitude lakes and meadows, which were visited by few people,” he said, adding that he and three other colleagues had been sitting idle since the ban was imposed.
“Most of my earnings would come from drones. We would earn ₹15,000 per person per day. For a short video of 3 minutes we would be paid around ₹50,000,” he said, adding that all of a sudden their source of income had dried up.
He says the administration’s concerns over drone use are misplaced. “We use drones very responsibly, take permission and inform local police stations,” he said.
Isam Wani, 32, a gymnasium owner and restaurateur, is a self-taught drone pilot who wants to showcase Kashmir’s beauty to the world. “People hardly see the beautiful side of Kashmir and drones help capture the unexplored parts of the Valley,” he said.
‘Govt should regulate usage, not ban it entirely’
He suggests that the government regulate drone operations by providing licenses to professionals and firms. Hamdani agrees. “We should be allowed to fly drones at places that are not sensitive. They can also make a list of professionals and allow restricted use,” he said.
Drones are governed by the 1934 Aircraft Act and the 2021 Civil Aviation Rules already restrict flying UAVs in prohibited areas that are 3km from the perimeter of any civil, private, defence airports, military installations and facilities and state secretariat complex or within 2km from the perimeter of any strategic or vital installation, besides national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.