NEW DELHI: Photographers and filmmakers in India’s Kashmir Valley have criticized a government ban on drones in the state capital Srinagar, with several saying on Monday that they feared for their livelihoods after the latest curbs.
On Sunday, a week after two explosive-laden drones injured two security personnel at an Indian Air Force base in Jammu, in Indian-held Kashmir, the Srinagar administration imposed a blanket ban on the use, possession and sale of the aerial devices in the Srinagar district, citing “security reasons.”
Drones were also sighted at the Ratnuchak-Kaluchak military base on Jammu outskirts for three days after the June 27 attack.
“The decentralized airspace access has to be regulated in view of recent episodes of misuse of drones posing a threat to security infrastructure,” the Srinagar administration said in its order.
“To secure the aerial space near the vital installations and highly populated areas, it is imperative to discontinue the use of drones in all social and cultural gatherings, to eliminate any risk of injury to life and damage of property,” it added.
Residents relying on drones for work, however, said that the restrictions could shutter their photography and filmmaking businesses.
There are more than 100 professional drone users in Srinagar — many registered with the government — who use the devices for filmmaking, and wedding photography and videos, after acquiring permission from local police.
“I work with Bollywood films and filmmakers from other parts of the country; they all need drones to shoot. The blanket ban affects the core of the business,” Shabir Bhat, a professional photographer and cinematographer based in Srinagar, told Arab News.
“When I heard about the drone ban, I was shocked. How come we professionals have become a security threat? I established myself with lots of effort, but suddenly, an uncertainty hangs on my future,” Bhat, 28, who shoots films and documentaries, added.
Filmmaker and line producer Irshad Bashir, who runs the Shampa Movies production house in Srinagar, said that the ban was a “setback” for the film and tourism industry in Kashmir.
“The government has been making an effort to promote Kashmir as a venue for film shoots and tourism, and the ban on drones is a big setback in that direction,” Bashir told Arab News.
Instead, he recommended that the government allow the use of drones “under the vigilance of a police or nodal officer.”
“We would submit a memorandum to the administration in this connection,” Bashir said.
Srinagar-based photographer Umer Maqbool said that he borrowed 150,000 Indian rupees ($2,000) last year to buy a drone for wedding shoots.
But with the new ban in place, he is now worried about his sole source of income.
“I registered the drone with the police. Having a drone was an advantage in wedding shoots. Now with the ban, my income comes down drastically,” Maqbool, 23, told Arab News.
He added: “I used to employ two to three people for the work. Now our livelihoods are at stake. How will I pay back my loan?”
Maqbool further questioned the government’s decision to impose the ban in Srinagar.
“The ban should be on drones close to the international border. Why in the center of the city?” he said.
Businesses and lives have remained in a state of suspense in Kashmir for more than a year after the region was placed under a lockdown when New Delhi abrogated the disputed territory’s limited constitutional autonomy in August 2019.
The Himalayan region has long been a flashpoint in ties between India and Pakistan — both claim it in full, but rule it in part.
The suspension of civil liberties and an internet ban has adversely affected Kashmir’s trade and tourism sector, too.
In recent months, however, the valley has seen filmmakers from Bollywood and regional film industries return to the area for work.
“For films, drone technology is very important to capture the beauty of the area. I hope the government understands how people like us will suffer and how Kashmir will suffer from such a ban,” Bashir said.
However, Srinagar’s deputy commissioner Mohammad Aijaz disagreed, saying that “security comes first.”
“It’s a precautionary measure,” Aijaz told Arab News, adding: “We understand that in this era of technology, drones can be used for many positive things, but security comes first, everything else comes next.”
However, he assured filmmakers that the ban was “not permanent.”
Aijaz said: “What comes ahead depends upon the assessment of the security situation.”