Prohibited bore weapons, meant for law enforcement, ending up in hands of politicians
Even as the government has sought to turn off the tap on gun ownership among ordinary Indian citizens, official records show it has sold lethal, prohibited bore weapons to 82 Members of Parliament - at least 13 of whom have themselves declared serious pending criminal cases, including charges of murder, attempt to murder, and kidnapping.
Data on all allotment of guns between August 31, 2001 and April 12, 2012, obtained from the Customs Department’s Anti-Smuggling Unit by RTI activist Ambrish Pandey, show the beneficiaries include Atiq Ahmad, who had 44 criminal cases pending against him at the time the department allotted him a Ruger Rifle M-77 Mark II on August 8, 2006. Similar allotments have been made to Abu Asim Azmi and Rakesh Sachan, both of whom have seven cases pending against them; P.D. Elanguan (5 cases); Afzal Ansari, Brajesh Pathak and Kapil Muni (4 cases each); Rakesh Pandey, R.K. Singh Patel, Sangeeta Kumari Deo and Dharam Raj Singh with 3 cases each; and Jual Oram, Ravindra Kumar Pandey, Dayabhai V. Patel, C. Kuppuswami, Yashvir Singh and Ravinder Singh Pandey with one criminal case each (see chart on Page 10).
Until 1990, government policies mandated that confiscated weapons of bores prohibited by the government — 9mm pistols, handguns of .38 and .455 caliber, .303 rifle, as well as all semi-automatic and fully-automatic guns — be put to use by departments like the police.
Non-prohibited bore weapons could be given to government officials on lease, subject to the condition that they would be returned after their retirement or superannuation. From March 1990, it was decided to sell surplus non-prohibited bore weapons, at near market rate plus a 250% customs duty, to MPs and other VIPs.
During this period, despite the government citing a shortage of stock to many, MP Rajendra Agnihotri was sold 2 weapons, while MP Renu Kumari’s weapon was exchanged in May 2001, just seven months from the date of sale.
The policy was revised on July 15, 2002 with an additional rider that MPs will be eligible for allotment of a weapon only if they submit in writing that they do not own or possess any weapon at the time of filing their application. “The Members of Parliament will be sold weapons on a first come, first served basis. The Finance Minister’s order has to be taken in each specific case,” the policy stated.
The policy, the data shows, was flouted. Delhi’s Minister for Health and Social Welfare Yoganand Shastri and Andhra Pradesh’s Minister for Roads and Transport Sakkan Pudi Rama Mohan Rao were sold guns by the government in 2004 and 2005, though neither was eligible for one.
In 2009, the Ministry of Home circulated a draft policy, allowing it to issue prohibited bore weapons to “persons who face grave and imminent threat to their lives by mere reason of being residents of a geographical area [or areas] where terrorists are most active and/or are held to be prime targets in the eyes of terrorists.”
The draft policy said this category included “MPs and MLAs including non-officials/private persons [sic] who by virtue of having been closely and/or actively associated with anti-terrorist programmes and policies of the government or by mere reason of their holding views, political or otherwise, not to the liking of the terrorists, have rendered themselves open to attack.”
MPs facing no threat
From the RTI data, it is clear that prohibited bore weapons, as well as others, were being issued to MPs facing criminal cases — and with no evident threat from terrorists — long before the 2009 policy went into effect. Mr. Azmi, for example, received a 9mm pistol in 2005. In other cases, like that of Mr. Atiq Ahmed, the kind of weapon issued is mystifying. “The P77 rifle the records state he got,” a senior police official told The Hindu, “is, as the manufacturer’s website itself states, designed for hunting, and not for self-defence.”
MHA officials contacted by The Hindu declined to comment on the process involved in issuing such weapons, the process by which an application was evaluated, or the officials who made the decision.
“Why should MPs be allotted guns in the first place, considering that the state provides them with security,” asks Trilochan Sastry, president of the Association for Democratic Reforms.
Centralised sale point
According to RTI activist Ambrish Pandey, all confiscated weapons are now sent to the New Custom House in New Delhi.
“This centralised sale point for VIPs under the Finance Ministry allows the government to follow an ad hoc, discretionary and opaque policy of allotment. For example, a gun was denied to ex-DG, Central Economic Intelligence Bureau, S.P.S. Pundir despite the fact that his vigilance-related work posed a security risk but allotted to another officer doing a desk job,” he says.
“The evidence shows over 40 exceptional allotments out of a total of 800,” Mr. Pandey points out.