For the first time, India has official data on the number of drones in the country. The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MOCA) has registered 19,553 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or drones since it made it mandatory for operators to register.

On January 13, the Ministry had issued a public notice to drone operators directing them to voluntarily register their drones on the Digital Sky platform by January 31 to avoid penal action.

This came after the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) issued the Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR), Section 3 - Air Transport Series X, Part I Issue 1, which was released on August 27, 2018. The CAR regulates the use of drones in the Indian Airspace and these regulations provide a process for obtaining Unique Identification Number (UIN), Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP) and other operational requirements, including identification of civil drones and drone operators.

According to official government data, reviewed by BusinessLine , 1,832 nano, 13,735 micro, 2,808 small, 140 medium and 1,038 large drones or UAVs were registered during the stipulated time.

The drone operators were supposed to register their drones on the online portal after which a Drone Acknowledgement Number (DAN) and an Ownership Acknowledgement Number (OAN) will be issued online which would help in validation of operations.

The move came about after several unregistered UAVs were caught in illegal activities in India and globally.

On January 10, the Punjab Police had seized two highly sophisticated Chinese-made drones. Two smugglers belonging to a narco-terror module involved in smuggling of weapons and narcotics across the India-Pakistan border were arrested for the same.

On January 3, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Commander Maj Gen Qaseem Soleimani was killed in a drone strike by the US troops in Baghdad.

In India, there are several restricted zones such as the army, naval bases, and airports where the usage of drones is not allowed. For civilian purposes, drones in India are used for photography, videography, shows, by the police and agriculture.

In comparison to the US, India has very few drones and because it is in its early stage, it can be clarified quickly and easily. If industry experts are to be believed, there is a lot of scope for training and clarity on the drone policy and the penalties that will be levied upon drone operators.

According to the data with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), as of March 10, the US has 441,709 commercial drones, 1,117,900 recreational drones registered and 171,744 remote pilots certified.

“There needs to be focus on increasing awareness and education about drone regulations. There should be drone schools where drone flight training should be imparted,” Deep Kanakia, Director of Operations of Drone Federation of India, said.

There is not much clarity on whether the number of drones registered are all we have in India or not. An industry expert requesting anonymity said: “Obviously there are more drone operators in India, it's not easy to quantify at the moment. It was a 15-day window, and there was a lot of apprehension with regard to the registration because prior to the registrations, all the drones were termed to be ‘illegal’. The government needs to have better provisions for the registrations.”

Joint Secretary of MOCA, Amber Dubey, had at that time clarified on a LinkedIn post that if an operator doesn't enlist before the January 31 deadline, the drone may most definitely be confiscated.

Dubey had clarified that after January 31, “only authorised retailers will be allowed to sell drones, after uploading buyer’s KYC and the sale invoice”.