The Government of India has amended the Customs Baggage Declaration regulations to make it mandatory (pdf) to declare drones in customs forms, for people coming to India. On declaration, users will need to report to the customs officer at the Red Channel counter and are liable to pay duty on the item. The regulation will come into force on the 1st of April.
Drones will be listed under question 10, asking if users are bringing any of the listed items in India. Other than drones, the list contains items like jewellery over free allowance, gold bullions, satellite phone, currency over Rs 10,000 or USD 5,000, and seeds, plants etc., which users are to mark with Yes or No. Users carrying drones will have to fill further forms at the red channel, where the item might either be deemed ineligible for entry in India, or have a duty imposed upon it. It is not clear how much the duty might cost.
Note that carrying drones on person was one of the last ways Indian enthusiasts could lay their hands on drones. The custom office has regularly held back or destroyed drone shipments citing that they are a threat to security and are banned from flying in India. Up until now, getting someone returning from a foreign country to buy a drone was a safer bet as it did not need to be declared.
Crackdown on drones: In February last year, YourStory had reported on the government cracking down on drone imports in the country. The report mentioned that users were required to posses a Wireless Planning Commission license to have the drone containing parcel clear the customs check. The requirement was ridiculous given that the license was required for the 2.4GHz band, the free, public use, WiFi frequency.
Subsequently in May, OnePlus, which launched some limited edition DR-1 drones, had their entire shipment allegedly destroyed by custom officers when shipped to contest winners in India. Again, the reason provided was national security, but it felt a little inadequate given that OnePlus’s drones were only 2.75 inch big, with a flight time of 5-8 minutes. The ‘drone’ weighed as little as 12.5g and would be incapable of generating lift even with a really small camera.
Similarly, various discussions on reddit and RC enthusiast forums in India are marred with threads complaining about custom issues. Not just customs, but other government agencies have also started cracking down on drones. In July last year, the Mumbai Police issued an order banning the use of drones in the city and there was a similar situation in September 2014 when Mumbai residents were no longer permitted to fly drones.
US drone policy: In October last year, the US Government made it mandatory for all unmanned aircraft to have registration. The rules for this regulation were rolled out in December, requiring users with drones over 25kg to register their drones for $5 per drone. By January, nearly 300,000 drones were already registered in the US.
Need for a drone policy: There is definite need for drone regulations in India. The fear and uncertainty over the technology, combined with regulatory and bureaucratic ignorance has created an environment where drones are currently banned in the country. In April last year, we’d reported that the directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA) was framing guidelines for the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones in the country, post which drones are expected to be legalized. The DGCA can take a hint from the FAA in the US, which issued a number of guidelines for the commercial use of drones, including defining height restrictions, operator certification, optional use of a visual observer, aircraft registration and marking, and operational limits etc. Meanwhile, drone enthusiasts in India will have to stick flying remote controlled toys, if at all those get across.