Sh­wedagon Pagoda trustees in­sti­tute a no drone zone

Eight drones have been seized since the pagoda’s board of trustees banned any un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles (UVAs) from their airspace late last year. They are now threat­en­ing le­gal ac­tion against fliers who flout the ban and do not ob­tian prior per­mis­sion.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - Aungkyawmin@mm­times.com AUNG KYAW MIN

SH­WEDAGON Pagoda is now a no drone zone. Un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles (UAVs) are not wel­come to fly over the famed pagoda or its grounds with­out prior per­mis­sion, the pagoda trus­tee com­mit­tee an­nounced at a Septem­ber 30 press con­fer­ence.

The board of trustees said the ban has been in place for a year, but has not been widely pub­li­cised so far. This has not de­terred main­te­nance staff from nab­bing drones that tres­pass over the pagoda’s airspace, how­ever.

Drones have in­creas­ingly been wan­der­ing over Sh­wedagon, some­times blown that di­rec­tion from the neigh­bour­ing Peo­ples’ Park and Happy World, said U Thaung Htike, a trus­tee com­mit­tee mem­ber.

“So far, we have kept the seized drones af­ter we catch them fly­ing in the air around us,” he said. “But the com­mit­tee has not yet de­cided what to do with th­ese seized drones and whether it is right to give them back to the owner or not.” The pagoda is cur­rently hold­ing on to eight drones seized over the last year.

Drones are on dicey le­gal ground in Myan­mar, which lacks reg­u­la­tions des­ig­nat­ing where drones can fly and who can fly­ing them.

Last year, to fill the leg­isla­tive vac­uum, the gov­ern­ment be­gan es­tab­lish­ing in­terim pro­to­cols in the in­ter­est of pub­lic safety, in­clud­ing a re­quire­ment to reg­is­ter with the Min­istry of Trans­port’s Depart­ment of Civil Avi­a­tion. The DCA has said it is re­spon­si­ble for all mat­ters re­gard­ing drones and UAVs, but it was not pos­si­ble to con­firm with the depart­ment over the week­end if it was aware of Sh­wedagon’s ban.

Trus­tee mem­ber U Thaung Htike said the drone ban was in­sti­tuted one year ago to pre­serve the in­tegrity of a na­tional trea­sure. Drones, as elec­tronic de­vices, could neg­a­tively im­pact some as­pects of re­li­gious ob­ser­vance at the pagoda, he added.

“Al­though the re­stric­tion has been in place since Septem­ber 2015, vis­i­tors do not seem to know about it yet, so we are shar­ing the mes­sage about this re­stric­tion through the me­dia,” he said.

“We did an aware­ness cam­paign dur­ing the last year, and put up no­tices around the pagoda. But it seems those mea­sures were not ef­fec­tive.”

U Thaung Htike added that the rel­e­vant town­ship ad­min­is­tra­tors in Yan­gon – specif­i­cally those in Ba­han, Dagon and San­chaung – have been sent no­tices about the ban.

West district ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer U San Minn said that dis­ci­plinary ac­tion will have to be taken in or­der to en­sure that the an­cient mon­u­ment re­mains a pro­tected zone of Yan­gon.

He added that any drone fliers caught flout­ing the Sh­wedagon ban could be seen as vi­o­lat­ing sec­tion 188 of the Pe­nal Code for dis­obey­ing a pub­lic ser­vant’s or­der. The charge is pun­ish­able with up to a month in prison and a fine. Ad­di­tion­ally, any un­li­censed drones could be con­sid­ered a vi­o­la­tion of the im­port and ex­port trad­ing act, he said.

Around the world, drone use has taken off, typ­i­cally with leg­is­la­tion hav­ing to play catch-up. From sur­vey projects to aerial footage ex­pe­di­tions, drones have al­ready been used in a va­ri­ety of projects in Myan­mar, in­clud­ing by ex­perts look­ing for in­for­ma­tion about flooded ar­eas, and by hob­by­ists seek­ing a bird’s eye view.

Lawyer U San Myint Aung said that

‘The com­mit­tee has not yet de­cided what to do with th­ese seized drones, or whether it is right to give them back to the owner or not.’

U Than Htike Pagoda trus­tee com­mit­tee mem­ber

spe­cial drone leg­is­la­tion is cur­rently be­ing drafted, and that when it emerges, Sh­wedagon Pagoda’s ban may need a spe­cial sec­tion un­der the law.

Trus­tee mem­ber U Thaung Htike ac­knowl­edged that there may be some le­git­i­mate rea­sons in the fu­ture to fly drones over Sh­wedagon, and that if peo­ple wish to fly any UAVs over the pagoda they should seek prior per­mis­sion so as to avoid los­ing their air­craft and po­ten­tially fac­ing re­tribu­tive ac­tion.

“We [the com­mit­tee] have also used drones for record­ing footage of his­tor­i­cal ob­jects,” he said. “So we un­der­stand there are uses for them. If any per­son wish­ing to fly a drone here can present a rea­son­able in­ten­tion for do­ing so, they can in­form they com­mit­tee of their re­quest and we will con­sider it.”

PHOTO: KAUNG HTET

Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing

The pagoda trustees com­mit­tee has banned drones from fly­ing over Sh­wedagon Pagoda.

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