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Available online in India: Military-grade equipment banned for commercial sale

Military-grade equipment banned for sale to civilians, including a device used by terrorists during a deadly attack in Punjab last year, can be bought online in India, an investigation by Hindustan Times reveals.

india Updated: Dec 14, 2016 07:22 IST
Tanmay Chatterjee
Military equipment

Commando stand guard at the Pathankot airbase during a search operation in Pathankot. Military-grade equipment, including a device used by terrorists during the deadly attack in Punjab last year, can be bought online in India.(Sameer Sehgal/Hindustan Times)

Military-grade equipment banned for sale to civilians, including a device used by terrorists during a deadly attack in Punjab last year, can be bought online in India, an investigation by Hindustan Times reveals.

Among the merchandise listed for sale by popular shopping portal Amazon India are night vision telescopic sights for rifles, helmet-mounted night vision goggles and monocular sights that help in precision shooting even in darkness.

Indian law states goggles, rifle scopes and optical sights with night vision capability are “restricted” items and can be used only by the armed forces, police and government agencies. Civilians possessing or trading in night vision devices (NVDs) without Union home ministry permission can be prosecuted.

Asked about the availability of such devices, a defence ministry official said, “We are not aware of any rule that permits civilians to buy or use military-grade NVDs.”

A customs department official said, “NVDs are a part of 428 items classified as ‘restricted’ in the government’s import list.”

Amazon, however, offers them for prices ranging from Rs 14,190 to Rs 296,000. EMI option is available for the costly devices though the cash-on-delivery is reserved only for those with a lower price tag.

Most of the NVDs available on Amazon state they are made in the US, a few carry British brand names and the rest do not mention their origin. The average prices are four to six times higher than in the US. Some of the high-end products carry a statutory US government warning: “This item is restricted for sale to the state of California and outside the US.”

“NVDs have become an essential part of warfare, especially the one against terror. It’s shocking to know these are selling online,” said a serving lieutenant colonel.

In 2013, the National Investigation Agency had arrested the director of a Delhi-based company and four others for importing NVDs for rifles from a California-based corporation by forging receipts and non-transfer certificates (end-user certificates) in the name of Chhattisgarh police. These NVDs were sold to Maoist guerrillas, according to the charge sheet in the case.

Security agencies say Maoist rebels use American monoculars (they come with a single lens and are worn in front of the eye to take aim with a firearm). The PVS-14 American monocular device was found to have been used by terrorists when they attacked Dinanagar police station in Punjab’s Gurdaspur in July 2015, killing three civilians and four policemen. The attackers had come dressed in army fatigues and were killed after a prolonged encounter.

When HT contacted, a spokesperson for Amazon India promised an investigation. “We have taken note of your concern and will investigate this matter at our end. As you are aware, Amazon.in is a pure marketplace and products are listed on Amazon.in by independent sellers. We will take this up with the concerned sellers to take the necessary corrective actions, if required.”

The spokesperson failed to readily state how many such devices had been sold in India.

Bharat Electronics Limited (a defence ministry subsidiary) and a few private companies manufacture NVDs in India. About 70-odd registered private agencies across India also import NVDs when permitted by the home ministry.

“Yes, we import night vision binoculars but to buy one you will need permission from the home ministry. We cannot sell these to civilians without authorisation from the government,” said a spokesperson of the Delhi-based Betar Communication Systems Private Ltd.

A spokesperson for Sure Safety Solutions, a Mumbai-based importer of NVDs, said the company doesn’t entertain business queries from civilians.