As the gun battles were in focus in the last 30 years, a section of bureaucracy was arming the deep-pocketed criminals. Now the CBI has started investigating the issuance of more than four lakh arms licenses amid expectation that some powerful officers may end up in jail, reports Masood Hussain
By the year end, the federal investigator, the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI), carried out a major raid across Jammu and Kashmir. Involving 17 locations including Gurgaon (Haryana), Mohali (Punjab) and Noida (UP), the raids were carried out on the offices and homes of eight officers, who had served as the District Magistrates earlier. Unlike militancy and terror funding, the issues that are usually linked to such raids, the major operation was also about guns, the licences for which were issued by these collectors, over the years.
Though the CBI is investigating around 200 thousand such licenses issued by these officers, the sources in the Jammu and Kashmir government indicate that the number exceeds 400 thousand, or even more. Reports appearing in the media suggest that of 429301 gun licences issued over the years, less than 10 per cent were issued to the residents of Jammu and Kashmir. In certain cases, the licenses were allegedly issued in the name of security men. There are many cases in which more than one weapon was purchased against one license.
The officers who were at the centre of these raids included ItratHussainRafiqui (former DM Kupwara), Faquir Chand Bhagat, Jehangir Mir (Kulgam), Javed Khan, Farooq Khan (Doda), YashaMudgal (Udhampur and Kupwara), and Kumar Rajiv Ranjan. Some of these officers are still in service: Mudgal is heading the newly created Jammu Power Distribution Corporation and Ranjan is CEO of Metro Regulatory Authority Jammu.
Bhagat, unlike others from the retired lot, is in politics. After retiring as Deputy Commissioner, Rajouri, Bhagat joined PDP and contested 2014 assembly election from Bishnah, unsuccessfully. He is now with BJP.
After the raids, CBI said the licenses issued from Kupwara, Baramulla, Shopian, Pulwama, Udhampur, Kishtwar, Rajouri and Doda involved “receipt of gratification” and was blatantly illegal. Most of these licenses were issued to non-state subjects and carried all-India permit, which usually is not a norm. Recoveries from various gun manufacturing facilities included issue, renewal of arms licenses, blank application forms submitted by license seekers, money transactions of gun dealers with licenses, and blank No Objection Certificates (NOCs) purportedly issued by the DMs. At the time of the raids, the officers were not present. However, Rafiqui, who was in Kupwara rushed to his Srinagar home after he was told about the raid. Sleuths later took his cell phone.
The CBI raids were the outcome of the two cases that were registered a few years back. However, the practice of issuance of the gun licenses is apparently as old as the Kashmir militancy. The officers were arming the criminals from mainland India when the entire focus of the Raj Bhawan was on the ‘proxy war’. The first case in ‘fake licenses’ was registered in Jammu and Kashmir in 1996.
Jammu and Kashmir government was alerted after Delhi Police arrested Krishan Kumar, a Najfgarh resident, and a known charge-sheeter who was required in 12 criminal cases in Delhi and Haryana. He was carrying an arms licences issued by DM Jammu. During sustained interrogation, he revealed the blueprint of the criminal-smuggler-official nexus. Quickly, the Jammu and Kashmir government started investigations.
By around 2002, the issue became a hot subject in the official circles especially after it was detected that criminals from at least 10 states were using the arms they procured from Jammu and Kashmir. These included AshwaniNaik, a key figure in D-company and Manu Sharma, one of the accused in notorious Jessica Lal murder case. By late 2000, the Jammu and Kashmir police were investigating around 1009 licenses issued by various DMs between 1990 and 1998. Additional 33 cases were added to the lot in 1999. Almost ninety percent of these licences had been issued from Jammu after the home department cleared the cases. By then the sleuths in the Crime Branch had discovered the modus operandi: “Aspirants for licences with special permits would approach gun-peddlers, settle the amount involved and share the booty with the issuing authorities.” Some known criminals were identified to be beneficiaries and the police required help from the federal agencies to nab them.
Jammu and Kashmir Police’s Crime Branch had registered three case FIRs (No 18 of 1996, No 8 of 1999 and No 31 of 2001). The accused included former Additional DMs J K Sawhney and Daleep Singh besides former DM Jammu S D Wahi and a broker GanghadarBaghat, also a political activist. The co-accused included four gun manufacturers – Suresh alias Pinka (Suresh Armoury), Satinder Pal Sethi (Sethi Arms Company), JoginderMehra (J&K Small Arms) and proprietor of Shah Gun Factory.
By early 2002, the government decided to handover the case to the CBI. In an interesting twist, Surjit Singh Rana, one of the accused in the case, approached the High Court challenging the state government’s decision to involve CBI. He argued that if the Crime Branch investigated the case, why involve a federal investigator! Appearing in the case, the CBI counsel told the court that “indiscriminate issuance of licenses to the criminals has become a threat to the national integrity”. The petition, however, was dismissed.
Jammu and Kashmir has a tradition of gun manufacturing for a very long time. Jammu and Kashmir has 31 gun and ammunition manufacturing units across the erstwhile state. By 2006, 44123 guns were made in Jammu and Kashmir. The rise of militancy marked the fall of Kashmir’s BandookKharMohalla, the specialist gun-makers, as authorities reduced their yearly quota of guns. However, they increased the quota for their Jammu counterparts.
Established in 1943, the Subhana Sons, one of the Kashmir gun-makers would make 700 guns a year. In 1958, it was reduced to 400 and by 1990 it was permitted to make only 300 a year. Zaroo Gun Factory could not make beyond 500. In Jammu, the situation was different: From 300 units a year, the quota of Standard Gun works and Bhargava Arms Company jumped to 1800 and 2400 by 2004; Mehar Singh Gun Factory and Khalsa Gun Works jumped to 4000 from 720; Bumrah Gun Works reached to 1200 from mere 150.
Seemingly, there was some patronage to the sector at some level in the government.
In February 2011, when the police in Jammu detected 142 “fake licenses” involving a magistrate posted in Mendhar, the role of a number of gun-makers came to the fore. The officer had issued 209 permits, as the subsequent investigations proved. Police seized the sale records of Jammu’s two gun-makers in this case. It was, in this case, the government cancelled the registration of both the gun-makers. In the wake of this incident, the government revealed the fresh shocking details: DMs across Jammu and Kashmir have issued 51616 gun licenses in 2009 and 2010. Calculating the five-year issuance a year later, the officials traced a whopping 117905 license numbers.
The dramatic turn in the gun chase was reported on July 10, 2018, when ATS and SOG arrested the Kumar JyotiRanjan, the elder brother of Kumar Rajeev Ranjan, a Jammu and Kashmir cadre IAS officer who earlier held the DM Jammu position, from Gurgaon. Owner of a Haryana-based construction company, Jyoti was the 52nd arrested in the case involving 67 illegal arms and 1188 fake licences. In September 2017, the ATS had arrested a suspect in Ajmer that busted an interstate illegal arm and license syndicate operational across four states. Zuber, an accused had revealed taking Rs 3-4 lakh for a license issued from Jammu and Kashmir in backdate. MHA had forbidden states to issue licenses in 2008.
ATS said they are investigating the officer for his involvement, if any, in issuance of the licenses.
There was an impression amongst various federal organisations that Jammu and Kashmir was shielding its officers. Before the ATS, a similar request had come from Rajasthan Director General of Police; O P Galhotra after his ATS busted a racket. On basis of an MHA letter (March 6, 2018) an FIR (18 of 2018) was registered by the then State Vigilance Organisation (SVO) seeking fresh verification into licenses issued between January 2017 and February 23, 2018, across eight Kashmir districts. MHA said their records suggest 369191 gun licenses stood issued in Jammu and Kashmir in last 15 years.
The investigations found glaring comprises: In June 2018 in Udhampur, the SVO found most of the 20,000 licenses issued in four years, lacked mandatory CID verification.
OVER TO CBI
On the recommendation of the Jammu and Kashmir government, then led by N NVohra, the CBI at Chandigarh registered two cases to probe “illegal” issuance of over 40,000 gun licences in Jammu & Kashmir in July 2018. The cases named one former DM in Kupwara and rest of the accused were unknown. Cases were registered under various sections of the IPC, Prevention of Corruption Act and the Arms Act. The state government withdrew all licences issued between January 2017 and February 2018.
After investigating the case, the CBI carried out raids at 12 places in Srinagar, Udhampur, Kathua and Jammu – mostly gun selling shops, on July 9, 2019. These were part of raids at 110 locations across 19 states. Though no arrest was made, the sleuths seized sale records from the gun makers.
The next round of raids came by the year end. The CBI, according to its spokesman NitinWakankar, was investigating how the former public servants had issued licenses to licences to non-residents after “allegedly received gratification.”
Under the system in vogue, the DMs can issue a license to security men at the place of their deployment, without police verification, merely on the basis of a letter from the respective commanding officer. In various cases, the cartels would fake the identity of the security men.
The raids have had an immediate impact. As CBI investigations are going on, “several individuals in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have filed for anticipatory bail fearing arrest”.
Writing in the First Post, YatishYadav reported that the case is still revolving around the lower level bureaucracy amid the word that “top bureaucrats, too, were involved in facilitating the validation of license across the whole country.”
The investigator, the report said has been monitoring the calls of the accused. In one intercept, one officer was purportedly telling his client: “Investigators will not be able to touch us, so don’t panic.” In another interception, Yadav’s report said, a record keeper in the district collector’s office was advised to ‘get admitted to a hospital’, just before the office was raided. CBI did investigate a few. One IAS officer told the investigators that “everybody was doing such things (issuing fake arms license) so why is he being singled out?”
The new name that has cropped up during the investigations is the Adarsh Credit Cooperative Society owner who is in jail for Rs 9,000 crores housing society-scam. His nephew, living in Pune, was found carrying a gun license issued on basis of a fake Jammu domicile certificate.
“There are three key players of the cartel- Zuber, Vishal and Rahul who operated as a team playing the role of a retailer, supplier and manufacturer of the fake arms licenses,” the report said. “The trio had roped in several licensed arms dealer to buy a weapon at a price ranging from Rs. 10-12 lakh. A woman, part of the gun-running cartel has turned approver in this case. Sources said, she has also named a senior state official, who has been posted in Delhi since 2015.”