How to Kill Innovation in India using Customs

I did my engineering from 1998 to 2002. It used to be very difficult to get the latest and greatest in the electronics world from the local market. My go-to way to get something interesting was to apply for freebies from companies in the USA, whether it was PICs from Microchip or the latest Linux CDs. I would apply and then wait. It would take time but it would arrive at home safely. I used to get frustrated by this waiting time. Sometime it would take up-to three months. Twenty years later shipping has become faster but the new hurdles by the bureaucracy and administration is the source of frustration. In a nutshell nothing has changed in twenty years.

I am not a professional electronics engineer anymore. I am more of a computer science engineer now. But the ECE engineer in me tries to experiment once in a while. The newer FPGA platforms are truly cross domain. They are equally electronics design and computer programming. Something for which I was waiting for a long time. Also RISC-V architecture is becoming the open source challenger for the traditional chip designers. In many years FPGA has become affordable, easy and accessible. So as an excited engineer I wanted to try my hands at both. That's when I came across FOMU.

Small and Beautiful  FOMU.

Small and Beautiful FOMU.

Fomu is a programmable FPGA device that fits inside a USB port. It has four buttons, an RGB LED, and an FPGA that is compatible with a fully open source chain and capable of running a RISC-V core. Fomu comes in a custom plastic enclosure that slots perfectly into a USB Type-A port.

It's a great product to experiment and learn. So I ordered on CrowdSupply1. I ordered two to save on shipping if one goes bad. It wasn't really cheap. I paid $74 (Rs.5282.34) including shipping. Shipping arrived last week to Bangalore. And it arrived home today with a rude shock that I have to pay taxes and service fee of Rs.4489 ($62.89). A little less than the amount I paid for the product. I am a tax paying individual. I rarely order things from across the world. When I order it's mostly to experiment. I think this tax and bureaucracy around it is killing my interest in experiments. I am an earning individual so I can afford to pay. But imagine a student me. I wouldn't even think about it even if I had saved up enough money to buy it. Student me wouldn't pay so much tax. It's similar to how tariffs are hurting innovation in small electronics industries in the USA.

Screenshot showing import tax.

Screenshot showing import tax.

This is not the first time. Last year I got a sample of ATTINY817 which costs couple of cents (Rs. 9) from USA. I got a very bureaucratic letter from customs. It's usually so much effort to deal with them that I didn't collect. I left it to decay.

Customs Letter

Customs Letter

I hope someone in the department wakes up before it causes huge hindrance. As far as I am concerned it's already hurting a lot of innovators.

On a side note FOMU looks great. I am looking forward to experimenting with it. Thank you team FOMU and Sutajio Kosagi for this amazing product delivered to my home. I hope to write more.

  1. Kickstarter for small hardware manufacturers

8 Responses

  1. National security. /s

  2. Wow! I had absolutely no idea they would charge for small shipments too! A few years back I sent a professional Archery set to my sister and the package was held in the local PO for customs collection. Something I didn’t expect but got to terms with given the package volume/weight.

    When I travel, I carry my SBCs in the check-in. Always have my fingers crossed, since the person screening the baggage probably would have no clue about these devices and may either trash it or keep it under ‘safe-custody’. I was considering just shipping spares to my Indian address but from your post, looks like I need to plan better and find alternate means…

  3. Kishore says:

    Hi..Thejesh…I have gone through your article…as myself closely associated with customs, I would like to share to you firstly that students have customs duty exemption if certified by their Principal or VC or HOD the item meant for R&D….secondly the two documents uploaded by you are not of customs but they were by the courier companies carrying your goods…they charged you in their own style depicting IGST and Customs Duties at higher side than actually they attract…the courier you have chosen seems failed to represent before customs in applying correct tariffs without consulting you… please demand the customs document from the courier and cross-check the duties levied there with …..

    • Adithya says:

      While this is a nice thing to hear, universities in general are not interested in innovation these days not support it if there’s documentation involved. I’m a student of SRM Chennai and I can vouch for this. Any innovation from students side will be branded to the college if successful and of course student will be called out for wasting time on this and not preparing for campus selections if it’s not successful. I’ve recently wanted to order an oscilloscope from u.s since they’re cheap their and they even provide student discounts (200$) for the same product priced 650$ here. Customs were calculated to be around 250$ by fedex and I didn’t bother. To this day I don’t have what’s supposed to be at every electronic engineers disposal. My college itself has dammed 19th century scopes which are unusable. Your process is often not straightforward and is meant to be hidden from most people, the fact that awareness about this has to be brought about by a comment in a blog post proves that fact.

      • Adithya Angara says:

        Apologize for the bad grammar, I was typing this on a phone that likes to correct me more often than not in places where there are no mistakes, like our government in a way.

  4. Dinesh Abiram says:

    Courier carriers are actually running a racket, somebody should audit them,

    They almost all the time represent you in the worst Harmony Systems.

    See your article code and cross check with indirect tax systems.

  5. mohammad says:

    i had a same experience, sample nuds half kg as sample market rate max rs 500 i paid rs 880 totally unfair