Governments across the country have issued 19.80 lakh private gun licences in 324 districts, or in just under half the country’s 671 districts.
States that have suffered terrorism and those with poor social indicators top the list. Uttar Pradesh, which has 16.50 per cent of the country’s population, has issued 11.23 lakh private licences, according to a government affidavit filed in the Allahabad High Court last year. The district-wise data were received over four years from queries sent to 600 districts; many didn’t respond. For the 324 that did, the average works out to 6,113 licences per district.
The replies throw up sharp contrasts. Of the 50 districts on top of the list, 21 are in UP. These include Lucknow, Varanasi, Moradabad, Ghaziabad, Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Bareilly and Azamgarh.
Punjab accounts for another 11 of these 50 districts. These include Patiala, Tarn Taran, Ferozpur, Ludhiana, Hoshiarpur, Sangrur and Jalandhar and Muktsar Sahib. The figures are for non-prohibited bores, issued by district administrations. Licences for prohibited bores are issued by the Centre.
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When The Indian Express wrote to the UP government, it responded that it does not maintain such data. The affidavit in which it declared the number of private licences was filed on October 9, 2013. The 11.23 lakh private licences contrast with just 2.5 lakh with the state’s police force.
A division bench comprising Justices Abdul Mateen and Sudhir Kumar Saxena observed, “Arming society to such an extent rings a danger bell. In fact, the state is sitting on a volcano.” The court found that at least 6,000 persons facing criminal trials have also been issued arms licences in UP. Besides, the state declared 50,000 applications are pending with the district authorities in Lucknow. District authorities in this state are known to get recommendations from politicians for licences to be issued to certain people.
Lucknow district alone has 48,436 licensed weapons, a number that not only outmatches Gujarat, where the statewide total is 44,882, but also dwarfs Thiruvananthapuram district in Kerala, which has 595 as per replies from the district authorities.
When one applies for a private licence, the cause cited is invariably “self-defence” and the licence is eventually granted on the ground. Once the arms and licences were in hand, they were used to commit at least 2,012 murders in the five years from 2008 to 2012, National Crime Records Bureau data show.
When The Indian Express wrote to state governments, very few of them could give a total for private arms licences issued, while the home ministry couldn’t give a nationwide figure. The one figure the ministry could give, 2,191, was for private licences issued for prohibited bores until last year. “Non-prohibited bore licences are issued by state government/district magistrate concerned and no data at present is available with MHA,” it responded to an RTI application.
The ministry in March 2009 had asked state governments how many arms licences had been issued by states and DMs. In a circular on April 6, 2010, it wrote, “It has been decided to maintain a database as may be specified and share the data with the Central Government which shall maintain a national database.” But sources in the ministry say most of the states did not even respond.
The Indian Express approached every state’s director general of police and home department. Only Gujarat, Haryana, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Andaman & Nicobar, Delhi and Tripura provided the numbers, while UP’s figure comes from its affidavit. Most other states suggested that district magistrates be approached instead. The Election Commission, which calls for surrender of licensed weapons during polls, forwarded the queries to the states. The data eventually collected for this report comes after 700 RTI applications to district administrations over four years.