Buying a drone in India? It won’t end well for you

Jayadevan PK June 6, 2016 3 min

Drones are all the rage now. But if you are in India, you won’t be able to import one legally. The easiest way to buy a drone in India is to buy one online — and a few people have already done that, including this tiny drone that my colleague Anand bought online.

Buying a drone online is also in a legal grey area (more on that later). But I was willing to risk it. So last month I ordered one from Gearbest, a website that sells drones and other cool stuff. I even paid extra shipping to make sure it reaches me on time. But then, there was no sign of it even after 10 days.

I tracked the shipment down and found out that it had been handed over to the customs officers in Mumbai. I decided to call them and find out what’s happening. After calling a few different numbers, I reached the desk of an officer at the parcel sorting office to find out that the drone may not reach me at all.

“You will have to get a clearance from the wireless planning and coordination wing,” he said.

The what? It turned out that the WPC is a branch of the ministry of communications in India. From my childhood, I vaguely recalled that these are the folks who give you Ham radio licenses. You have to write a test to get that license.

Drones use radio waves to communicate back to the controller, so that’s where the WPC comes in. But that’s not all.

The man on the other end of the line said:

You will also need to get a clearance from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA)

He also volunteered that there have been quite a few such cases recently. By now, it was clear to me that as an ordinary citizen, I wasn’t going to be able to get these clearances.

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. Here are some key points, as Pranav pointed out in our earlier post about drones in India .

  1. Every drone sold in India must have a Unique Identification Number (UIN).
  1. Every person flying a drone must have a permit.
  1. If you’re flying a drone below 200 feet from ground level, you will need a permit from your local administration.
  2. If you’re flying above 200 feet, you will need one from the DGCA.
  1. You’ll need to submit an application for this permit at least 90 days before you actually fly a drone.

So essentially, you are going to need a license and a number plate. If you search online, you’ll soon realise that the government considers these drones a ‘major security threat.’ So promptly, they’ve put an import restriction on them. You can’t even buy a drone abroad and bring it to India, because you have to declare it when you fly in. And then it goes to the customs and you know what happens then. Drones are part of ‘ prohibited and dutiable ’ items for the Indian customs now.

So until the government clears the air on regulation, my ambitions to legally own a drone will have to stay grounded.


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