My quest to find drones in Bengaluru’s grey market

Ramarko Sengupta June 7, 2016 3 min

With the government putting a number of restrictions on buying a drone in India, getting one is quite a task. My colleague Jayadevan found out first hand when he ordered one from China, and it got stuck at Mumbai customs.

To cut a long story short, custom officials at the Mumbai airport seized it, and said he’ll need permission from the aviation regulator DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) and the Wireless Planning and Co-ordination wing of the Ministry of Communications.

But if you really want to own a drone, there’s another way. The good old grey markets of Bengaluru. So one sultry and hot afternoon, I set out to find one. These markets are near the Kempegowda bus station a.k.a Majestic. It is one of Bengaluru’s busiest areas, dusty and crowded but full of surprises.

Home to the the likes of National Market, Bajaj Complex, Bangkok Plaza among others, you’ll find almost every electronic device here.

On my day out, National Market was shut. Apparently, someone important associated with the mall was getting married or was it his wedding anniversary—well, it doesn’t matter—bottomline is it was shut. I was disappointed and was wondering if my trip was wasted. After all National Market is the most prominent of the markets there.

Bangkok Plaza

I walked across next door, to what is called Bajaj Complex. Lo and behold! Drones! Displayed brazenly on store shelves. Smaller ones, bigger ones, with camera or without—I was suddenly spoilt for choice. It was like going from famine to feast.

I started haggling over the prices of the different drones on display. And it looked like I could get the smaller ones for around Rs 1,500, the medium-sized ones for about Rs 2,500, and if I fancied one with a camera, which is what Jayadevan had ordered, it would set me back by Rs 4,000.

The shopkeeper, Rashid warned me that the camera quality won’t be great. “It’s just VGA,” he said. “If you want good quality output get one without a camera, and mount your own GoPro or whatever,” he suggested. Another shopkeeper, Devi Singh, at the neighbouring Hong Kong Bazaar, told me that camera drones were in high demand, and supply had dried up from China. He tried to push the non-camera ones to me and echoed Rashid’s sentiments—”the built-in cameras aren’t any good sir, mount your own,” he said. Singh said he already has a waitlist of 10 people who want camera drones. He took my number and said,”you’re no 11, and I can’t promise when but I’ll give you a call,” he signed off but not before making a final sales pitch for the non-camera one.

I wondered if the camera drone supply drying up had anything to do with the government cracking down on them. I asked the shopkeepers there but didn’t get any definitive answers.

The drones are all shipped from China, the shopkeepers told me. And since there’s no warranty, they insist on giving you a demo before you make the purchase, lest you come back later to hound them with quality issues.

They all assured me though, that once I buy the drone, although it does not come under any sort of warranty, if there are issues with it or repairs are needed, it’s available at the market at a price.

The regulations around buying or flying drones are still unclear. Earlier this year, the DGCA published a draft consultation paper on regulating drones in India. It has been nearly 15 months since they started the consultation process.