Gunning For Licences

A liberal gun licences policy that insiders say is aimed at arming a particular community is having repercussions throughout India as criminals from other states find it easy to procure guns and licences from J&K. A Kashmir Life report.

J&K has remained a paradox throughout. While its battle against the militant’s gun remained the chief occupation of the state and the central governments since 1988, its officials have at the same time been arming, legally, the warlords and criminals from the Indian plains.

Almost every two years a racket, involving the issuance of the gun licences, surfaces. The CBI has been investigating one such racket for years now. Police is investigating many more. So far not a single person has been prosecuted or punished. However, the number of licences being issued by babus in the home and revenue ministries is surging with each passing year. In 2009 and 2010, the state government disclosed recently, as many as 51616 gun licences were issued by Deputy Commissioners across the state. This is over and above the cases that state home ministry tackles at the secretariat level.

Parallel to this, runs the ‘fake gun licence’ sector. Sham Lal Sharma, health minister, made a statement in the house last week offering details of one such racket that involves issuing of 142 fake licences. The arrest of two persons along with guns and ‘licences’ at Janipur in Jammu led police to an SDM in Mendhar, Poonch, who allegedly is the kingpin in issuing such licences. A case was registered on February 7 and the SDM Mukhtar Choudhary is on the run along with three of his subordinates. The government has requested the MEA not to issue any travel document to the fugitive officer.

Sharma’ statement suggested that a well organized and adequately networked gang was operating the licence-weapon market in the state. He identified three Jammu based gun manufacturers – Singh Gun House, Suresh Armoury, and Hem Raj Gun factory, Digiana – as being working as the bridge between the licence seekers and issuers. He mentioned the costs per licence being at Rs 36,000. Right now while police is trying to arrest the accused, a magisterial enquiry is in progress in Poonch. The Deputy Commissioner Jammu has, according to Sharma, recommended cancellation of licences of three gun manufacturers which the government is processing.

The state’s response has been typical knee-jerk one, which it has exhibited throughout on the indiscriminate issuance of genuine and fake gun licences. This is neither the first case involving gun licences nor the first time when the government identified particular gun manufacturers and promised action.
=State government was shocked after Delhi Police Crime Branch traced guns and the licences recovered from some mafia dons to J&K. These included Ashwani Naik, a D-company operative and Manu Sharma who was accused in Jessica Lal murder case. Swiftly the state government shifted the case to the CBI in early 2002.

It was the arrest of Krishan Kumar of Najafgarh, a history-sheeter wanted in 12 criminal cases in Delhi and Haryana that Delhi Police stumbled on a major racket. Kumar was carrying an arms licence issued by District Magistrate Jammu. During interrogation, he revealed the criminal-smuggler-official nexus. It led to the discovery of a few thousand licences – All India Permits – issued by DM Jammu of which over 400 had been issued to alleged criminals in Madhya Pradesh, 400 to Utter Pradesh, 70 have gone to Delhi, 50 to Rajisthan, 30 to Haryana, 20 to Bihar, besides an unspecified number to Punjab, Maharashtra, Gujarat and West Bengal.

State Police’s Crime Branch registered three cases between 1996 and 2001 after central security agencies detected the “fake licences racket”. Initially it involved 33 cases but the numbers surged. Well before the case was shifted to CBI, the investigations had identified some accused including three senior officers and a number of brokers who had created a record in issuing the licences. The gun manufacturers allegedly involved in the scam included Suresh Armoury, Sethi Arms Company, J&K Small Arms and Shah Gun Factory, Rajouri. Then, the J&K state had earned the dubious distinction of issuing the highest number of gun licences in a year in India.

After CBI took over the case, its counsel told a court in Jammu that the indiscriminate issuance of licenses to criminals had become a threat to national security. The CBI detected 1009 licences that had been issued to individuals with questionable reputations between 1990 and 1998. The developments made to the newspaper front pages but nothing moved.

Unlike other states which have very stringent regulations for getting an arms license, J&K is liberal and in most cases ready-at-a-price. This system has helped the state government to get a particular demography of the state armed to the teeth, insiders in the government said.

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