The drone operators, six IT professionals and two students, allegedly took aerial visuals of the Tiruvannamalai hill and the Arunachaleswarar Temple. While a 2014 bill in the region prohibited the use of any UAV except by government authorities or with specific permission, the law had not previously been strictly enforced.
A week ago, police seized a drone flown by a UK national over the hill; also on Sunday, several students were arrested for flying a drone in Perugundi. The arrests seem to be a reaction to a fear of potential terrorist attack. In Tiruvannamalai Taluk, monthly crowds at the holy hill or the annual Karthigai Deepam festival, which will be held next December, may offer a terrorist target: the Karthigai Deepam festival is celebrated during the day of the full moon between November and December. During the festival, over 3 million pilgrims witness the lighting of a huge beacon at the top of the Annamalai hill. On the day before each full moon, people travel around the temple base and the Annamalai hills in a worship called Girivalam, practiced by millions of pilgrims to the region.
Police have said that they are investigating the motives of the drone operators, and that footage confiscated from the drone is being analyzed.
While the police crackdown may put a damper on hobbyists, India’s government agencies have made good use of commercial and humanitarian drones. Drones were deployed by scientists of the Madras Institute of Technology (MIT) working with the Tamil Nadu police for security arrangements during this year’s Karthigai Deepam festival in November; and were also used in the region’s primary city of Chennai to rescue stranded families after recent flooding.
A government circular states that while drones offer the potential for a large number of civil applications, they also pose a security threat in India’s crowded airspace.
The police confiscated the drone and released the six operators arrested on Sunday on bail, pending further investigation.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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