Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Chhattisgarh High Court dismisses PIL seeking DGCA to conduct investigation regarding sale of drone

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The Chhattisgarh High Court dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking direction to the Director General Of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to conduct investigation regarding the sale of drones without type certificate.

The PIL filed by one  Ravi Singh further prayed that :-
– Issue a writ of mandamus directing the Ministry of Civil Aviation and DGCA to constitute a separate committee apart from the DGCA Drone Directorate to enforce Drone Laws 2021 to prevent such incidents in future; 
– To restrain the respondent No. 3 from engaging in any business activities and selling drones to customers (Government or Private Companies) 
– Issue a writ of mandamus directing the Central Government to issue appropriate guidelines and awareness about certification for use of drones;  

Pushpendra Singh Baghel, counsel appearing for the petitioner, submits that the respondent No. 3 is a manufacturer of drones in the civil and defence markets. The respondent No. 3 is specialised in the Indian Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles (UAVs) and have been supplying drones to various governmental bodies, including the State Police Department.

They are the largest drone manufacturers in India filing around 20 percent deploying over 1000 systems and trained over 3000 pilots in governmental organizations and defence forces as of the financial year 2022. 
On 27.04.2023, one drone manufactured by the respondent No. 3 which was being used in a survey work by Svamitva Project in Kharsiya, Chhatisgarh, exploded causing grievous injuries and burns to four pilots who were taken to hospital.

It was found that they were trying to recharge the battery of the drone which exploded suddenly.

A complaint was made before the Kharsiya Police Station and subsequently an FIR was filed against the Directors of the Company of respondent No. 3 for the offences under Section 308, 337 and 287 of the IPC.

The said drone was Q6 model which suffered numerous technical defects and was repaired twice by the technical team of respondent No. 3.

When the complainant asked for a refund of money, they fixed the drone and provided the complainant with insurance for one year.

Instead of taking the responsibility of the mishap, the respondent No. 3 has blamed the users/operators of the drone to have used it negligently without following the guidelines. Complaints were also made to the Director General, Civil Aviation upon which the DGCA commenced a probe into the incident.

Baghel next submits that as respondent No. 3 has been selling drones without type certification and as mandated by the DGCA that all the drones that are sold needs to have type certification alongwith UIN number, which the respondent No. 3 has failed to do so which is violation of the Drone Rules, 2021 and the respondent No. 3 is liable to be punished under Section 10(2) and 10(b) of the Aircraft Act 1934. If the said respondent No. 3 Company is allowed to sell its drones to the police, paramilitary or or army personnel, instead of deriving any benefit from those drones, there are chances of explosions causing casualties. In the aforesaid facts and circumstances, the relief as prayed for by the petitioner may be granted in the larger public interest .

On the other hand, Ramakant Mishra,  Deputy Solicitor General appearing for the Union of India, H.S.Ahluwalia, Deputy Advocate General, appearing for the State as well as Satish Mani Shinde alongwith  Shobhit Koshta, counsel appearing for the respondent No. 3, submit that this is a fake public interest litigation filed with an ulterior motive.

The petitioner has not even disclosed as to what is his locus to file this petition. There is no element of public interest involved in this petition and the petition appears to have been filed merely for publicity and causing harm to a private company. The police has already registered FIR as per the version of the petitioner himself and as such and even the DGCA has taken cognizance of the incident, as such, this petition  deserves to be dismissed as the threshold. 

Considering the submissions made by the learned counsel for the petitioner, the Division Bench of Chief Justice Ramesh Sinha and Justice Rakesh Mohan Pandey did not find any locus of the petitioner in this matter, if petitioner is aggrieved, he can go before the appropriate forum for redressal of his grievances.

One incident of any mishap occurring with any Drone manufactured by the respondent No. 3 Company, regarding which cognizance has already been taken of by the police authorities and the DGCA, there remains no cause of action for the petitioner especially when the petitioner is neither the buyer / operator of the Drones nor involved with the operation of the Drones in any manner. 
It is for the buyers, may be State Government, Central Government or any other Governmental Agencies or any private firms/entrepreneurs to decide as to whether they intend to purchase the product manufactured by respondent No. 3. It is a purely commercial transaction between two parties in which there is no occasion for the third person to intervene and to seek for a direction to restrain the respondent No. 3 from engaging in any business activities and selling drones. Spreading awareness by issuance of proper guidelines with regard to certification and use of drones etc. is within the domain of the Government which needs experts in the field and the Courts cannot step into the shoes of the experts.

“It would also be appropriate for this Court for encouraging the genuine PIL and discouraging the PIL filed with oblique motives. The Courts should, prima facie, verify the credentials of the petitioner before entertaining a PIL.

It is also well-settled that the Courts before entertaining the PIL should ensure that the PIL is aimed at redressal of genuine public harm or public injury. The Court should also ensure that there is no personal gain, private motive or oblique motive behind filing the public interest litigation”, the Court observed.

The Bench was not satisfied that this is a genuine petition filed in public interest so as to invoke the jurisdiction in the public interest under Article 226 of the Constitution.

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