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India to ban import of defence-grade fixed wing mini drones from December 2020

India will place a ban on importing fixed-wing mini drones for military purposes starting December 2020, as the Defence Ministry on Sunday released a list of 101 items for which there will be an import embargo. The import of items included in the list will be progressively be banned from December 2020 to December 2025. Apart from fixed-wing drones, the list contains other technology weapon systems such as radar, assault rifles, and sonar systems, among others. The Ministry also said that it will identify more such items following consultations with stakeholders.

The Defence Ministry estimates that contracts worth almost Rs 400,000 crore will be placed upon the domestic industry within the next five to seven years, courtesy of the embargo. Of these, items worth almost Rs 1,30,000 crore each are anticipated for the Army and the Air Force while items worth almost Rs 1,40,000 crore are anticipated by the Navy.

India was reportedly in talks with the US to acquire its medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) armed Predator-B drone, over concerns that China was supplying Pakistan with a few drones to surveil the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the PLA Navy’s new base at Gwadar in the highly restive Balochistan province, according to a Hindustan Times report.

India’s increasing anti-import stance: This is not the first instance where India has shown apprehensions about foreign-made goods and services. Earlier this month, India imposed restrictions on import of colour televisions (which effectively means all consumer TVs) in a bid to encourage domestic production. Imports of TVs in certain categories will now require a licence from the government, as the directorate revised the import policy for these items from “free” to “restricted”.

This stance by the Indian government comes amid heightened tensions between India and China. Indian companies too, have become a vocal critic of products imported from China in the aftermath of border tensions, and the trend is apparent in multiple industries including electronics and drones.

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Speaking to MediaNama last month, domestic drone maker ideaForge had said that India should be wary of Chinese made drones because they are essentially in the business of “data arbitrage”. The company had said that Indian made drones will be “safer” for national security compared to Chinese made drones.

Before that the Indian government, in June, had banned 59 apps developed by Chinese companies, including popular short video app TikTok, on “national security” grounds, and later restricted Chinese companies from participating in public procurement bids.

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