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It happens only in India

india Updated: Oct 06, 2008 23:48 IST
Ajai Masand

The red tape defies logic. You can legally import an air rifle (without a licence) of the Walther kind, used by Beijing Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra, but you cannot import the pellets.

The Indian government doesn’t seem to understand that there’s no point in owning the rifle, each costing Rs 1.25 lakh upwards, if you can’t get the pellets, which, incidentally, cost about Rs 300 for a box of 500.

If you want the pellets, you need an import licence — the process of getting one is so cumbersome and wound up in red tape, that it is driving shooters and officials to frustration.

“It is one of the biggest impediments to preparing good rifle shooters in the country,” Commonwealth Youth Games shooting chief coach Deep Bhatia told HT . “There’s no logic behind the rule. I feel it’s a clerical mistake or some mischief.”

Bhatia explained that though air pellets were freely available in India and cost about one-fourth the price of imported ones, they were of no use to competitive shooters, more the kind used in local fairs for shooting balloons. Precision shooting requires high quality pellets.

“Locally made pellets cannot be used in practice or competitions as their gauge and hardness keeps varying,” said Bhatia.

Bhatia added that the issue had been raised several times with the Sports Ministry, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT), which comes under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) secretary-general Baljeet Singh Sethi said the process had frustrated him. “The government has assured us that they will remove the import licence. But one of the many clarifications they sought from us for justifying the annulling of the import licence was, ‘what purpose would it solve?’ To this we answered, ‘what’s the use of an air rifle without pellets’.”

The NRAI seemed a bit zapped by the questions put to them. From their perspective, it was simple. “When the government abolished the import licence for air rifles a year ago, why didn’t they free the import of pellets? For now, it’s a long drawn out process,” Bhatia explained. “One has to first seek recommendations from the NRAI, who then pass that on to the Sports Ministry. The ministry in turn forwards it to the DGFT, which then issues a licence.

“One should understand that the gauge of the barrel for pistols and rifles varies from 4.48 to 4.50 and, for that purpose, the pellets need to be extremely precise. That precision is not available in India,” Bhatia added. “Besides, if the lead pellets are too hard or too soft depending upon the alloy contents, they damage expensive rifles and pistols. There are no quality checks here too. The government doesn't understand all this.”

“Well known shooters know the system and procuring channels but what about beginners? The mere thought of going from one government office to another kills their spirit.”

Ridiculous, but that’s how it is here. The Sports Ministry hasn’t imported guns and pistols since the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi, but that’s another story.