|Early Times Report|
New Delhi, Oct 25: In Jammu and Kashmir, the CBI has taken over an investigation of a massive gun licensing scam that reportedly lasted in the Valley for over a decade, between 2006 and 2016. The initial investigation by the Rajasthan Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) has exposed a racket of over four lakh fake gun licenses issued across the Valley, with only a meagre 10 per cent being issued to the residents of the state.
Following the initial investigation by the ATS, a countrywide nexus has been unearthed. Over 55 arrests have been made, following filing of two chargesheets in the case. Investigation remains pending against many others, including officials of the state government. A blanket ban on the issuing of arms licenses has also been imposed.
How the scam was unearthed
The arms licenses are issued to the civilians or army and security personnel for self-protection as per the provisions of the Arms Act, 1959, and Arms Rules, 1962. Unlike locals, the armed forces can obtain arms licenses based on a letter of recommendation from their commanding officer. They don't need to get the local police to verify their address, or undergo a criminal verification from the local police stations like other ordinary citizens.
The investigators in J&K revealed manipulations of the documents of the armed forces personnel to procure licenses. In many cases, the letters of the commanding officers were forged to get the licenses.
Interestingly, Jammu and Kashmir has issued maximum number of gun licenses, second to only Uttar Pradesh.
A political analyst in the Valley on the condition of anonymity explained, "To obtain even passports in the state is a mammoth task. The scale of the scam has shifted the focus on the blatant irregularities and the issues of transparency that have been plaguing the state machinery for long."
The investigation showed that a large number of licenses, in this period, were issued in Baramulla and Kupwara districts of North Kashmir, and Jammu, Ramban, and Kathua districts of Jammu region.
Kishtwar district tops among the 22 districts of the state with 30,872 gun licenses issued, of which, 20,610 were issued in 2014, and 10,262 in 2015. Data revealed by the investigating agency also suggested that 1,17,905 gun licenses were issued between 2010 and 2013.
Speaking to Newsclick, an official from the Home Department said, "It has been found that proper procedure was not followed, and many obtained gun licenses in spite of ineligibility."
The scam came to light for the first time in September 2017, after the secret 'Operation Zubeida' was initiated in May 2017 by ATS Rajasthan, to uncover the sale of illegal firearms in the state. Since then, ATS Rajasthan has raided several places. In one of the raids, the terror squad reportedly stumbled upon a shop in Ajmer, and found a father-and-son duo who ran the gun shop, and used "fake identities to get gun licenses" made in Jammu and Kashmir. As per reports, people, who had no relation with the armed forces personnel whatsoever, portrayed themselves as army personnel. This was achieved by morphing civilians' photographs with the ID of an armed personnel. It was discovered by the ATS that signatures of the district magistrates were also being manipulated.
During the course of the investigation, it was discovered that licenses were sold off to industrialists, mine owners, and jewellers for a cost of as little as Rs three lakh. ATS documents claim that the touts had direct access to the staff at the office of the district collectors, to conveniently manipulate the documents. Following this, Rajasthan ATS lodged an FIR at its Jaipur Headquarters in the case under Sections 420, 467, 468, 471, 474 and 120-B of IPC, and 3, 25 and 29 of the Arms Act. Subsequently, the ATS Rajasthan raided several places, and has also recovered a large number of fake licenses.
The J&K state government had earlier revoked a number of such licenses issued between January 1, 2017 and February 23. In a chargesheet filed by the ATS in October, 38 persons, accused of acquiring fake arms licenses by impersonation central paramilitary soldiers, have been named.
Currently, the CBI has taken over the investigation, and a case has been registered in Chandigarh. Prior to this, the probe was carried out by J&K's anti-corruption watchdog State Vigilance Organisation, which had registered two cases. The two cases were registered against unknown officials of various districts of J&K, under the Prevention of Corruption Act and the Arms Act. In one case, a former deputy commissioner of Kupwara district has been named as an accused.