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Ministry of Agriculture offers financial assistance to promote drones in farming

The ministry looks to spur drone applications in agriculture by making grants of varying amounts available to select entities.

Assistance for the purchase, hiring, and demonstrations of agriculture drones will be provided by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare (MoA&FW) which notified funding guidelines in a memorandum on January 17. These guidelines have been issued under the Sub-Mission on Agricultural Mechanisation (SMAM) Scheme.

Up to ₹10 lakhs, as grant funding for drone purchases, will be made available to Farm Machinery Training and Testing Institutes (FMTTIs), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) institutions, Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), and State Agriculture Universities, the Ministry said.

These guidelines, which come after the Drone Rules 2021 recently took effect, could potentially increase the usage of drones in the agricultural sector. Various states including Telangana have been experimenting with the applications of UAVs in farming and allied sectors.

Separate financial grants for purchasing drones to use in farms

The Ministry has laid down the following types of financial assistance that will be provided under SMAM:

  • 75% of grant funding for drone purchase to Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs).
  • Rs 6,000 per hectare to be given as contingent expenditure to implementing agencies that hire drones for drone demonstrations.
  • Rs 3000 per hectare to be given as contingent expenditure to implementing agencies that buy drones for drone demonstrations.
  • Up to ₹4 lakhs of grant funding for drone purchase to existing Custom Hiring Centres which are set up by Cooperative Society of Farmers, FPOs & Rural entrepreneurs.
  • Up to ₹5 lakhs of grant funding for drone purchase to agriculture graduates establishing Custom Hiring Centres.
  • CHCs/Hi-tech Hubs providing drone agricultural services will be supervised by the District Agriculture Officer for cost monitoring purposes.

“The proposals for the purchase of drones to be submitted through state government for consideration to the Executive Committee of the Scheme for allocation of funds; The financial aid and grants shall be applicable only till 31st March 2023,” the Ministry said.

New drone rules replace UAS Rules 2021

The Drone Rules 2021 which relaxed several existing norms and reduced compliance burden on the industry, was first notified by the Ministry of Civil Aviation on August 26, 2021. These rules replaced the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Rules, issued in March, 2021.

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“Because of the complexity and compliance cost involved, the existing rules were sharply criticised for being at the heavy-handed end of what was desirable for a thriving new industry,” said Rishi Anand, a partner at DSK Legal.

Key takeaways from Drone Rules 2021

  • Reduction in compliance burden
    • Unique authorisation number, unique prototype identification number, certificate of conformance, certificate of maintenance, operator permit, authorisation of R&D organisation, student remote pilot license, remote pilot instructor authorisation, drone port authorisation, and import permission for drone components are no longer required.
    • The number of forms/permissions has been reduced from 25 to 5.
    • All permissions shall be through a single nodal point i.e. DigitalSky platform.
    • No security clearance is required for conducting any activity in the drone sector.
  • Airspace maps for drones
    • Interactive airspace maps with green, yellow, and red zones have been launched on the Digital Sky platform and are also be accessible using APIs.
    • Yellow zone for drones reduced from 45 km to 12 km from the perimeter of airports.
    • No permission is required for operating a drone in green zones and up to 200 feet in the area between 8 and 12 km from the perimeter of airports.

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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