NEW DELHI: The elite National Security Group (NSG) and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) have come out with open tenders for 7.62x51mm sniper rifles that allow foreign purchases, despite the item figuring in the negative import list put out by the Modi government last month.

The negative import list sets December 2020 as the cut-off date for the rifle, which means its foreign-manufactured versions should not be bought after that date. 

The NSG came out with a tender for six sniper rifles on 15 September, also seeking accessories. The NSG tender does not allow direct participation of foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM). “However, the Indian agent can participate in the tender and import the rifles and supply to the NSG,” an industry source said.

The ITBP tender was issued on 10 August, a day after the negative import list came out, and seeks 358 sniper rifles of the 7.62x51mm variant. 

No corrigendum has been issued by the ITBP for this tender except for an extension of the dates to close the bid. A source said foreign OEMs can’t directly apply, but any Indian company that serves as their agent/representative can import the item.

The sniper rifle is one of 101 items on the negative import list issued in August, with different embargo dates — running up to 2025 — for different products.

Defence Ministry officials had last month played down fears that embargo dates until 2025 will allow the armed forces to import all their demand by then, and defeat the purpose of the initiative, ie, to encourage domestic industry.

‘Backdoor Entry’

Sources in the know of the tenders said the NSG and the ITBP should have gone for Indian manufacturers. The fact that the sniper rifles have been mentioned by the defence ministry in the negative list, they added, shows that they are reasonably confident about the domestic production of the 7.62×51 sniper rifles.

“When the item is mentioned in the negative list, they have issued a tender allowing foreign players when there are Indian manufacturers of the same kind. There are companies that are also making the rifle in India in partnership with foreign players with large indigenous content,” said a source.

When it was pointed out that the import embargo for sniper rifles only kicks in December, the source said the tender is in violation of the spirit of the negative import list, “which is to push forward indigenous content”.

A second source said, in spirit, tenders like the NSG and the ITBP’s amount to “backdoor entry” since Indian agents of foreign OEMs are allowed to bid. 

The defence ministry had, earlier this month, decided to scrap two deals that were being pursued under foreign procurement — carbines from the UAE and Self-Propelled Air Defence Gun Missile System (SPAD-GMS) from South Korea — and route them through the ‘Make in India’ initiative.

The deal for the new close quarter battle (CQB) carbines had been in the works since 2017. A UAE firm, Caracal International, finished as ‘L-1’ or the lowest bidder in September 2018 for a contract that was supposed to be fast-tracked.

However, pricing issues and representations by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the domestic small arms industry, which wanted a shot at the deal, finally spelt the end of the road for the deal.