For over a year, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu from Jhok Hari Har village in Punjab waited for an arms licence for a .32 bore revolver. Then last month, the Ferozepur district administration asked him to apply for the licence again, this time with a rider — plant 10 saplings in his village and send selfies with all 10 as proof to the authorities.
Sandhu planted different varieties at his house, near his farm and even on the village road. “If selfies with saplings are not submitted, the file will be rejected straight away. After one month, we need to submit fresh selfies. Perhaps this is a way to bring us closer to nature…now, I am waiting for approval,” he told The Sunday Express.
The new condition for arms licences was included on June 5 when Ferozepur District Commissioner Chander Gaind issued orders stating that “anyone seeking a new arms licence will have to plant 10 saplings, get selfies clicked and submit with file. Fresh selfies after a month will also have to be submitted. This is our little effort to increase green cover in the area as people in Punjab are crazy about seeking arms license, so let them go crazy for plantation as well.”
Since that order, the administration has received 23 new applications for arms licenses of which 13 have been sent for police verification, three have been cleared and 10 are under process. It also means 230 saplings have been planted. The idea even caught the attention of the NITI Aayog.
Rajinder Kumar, from the arms licensing department, said: “Every year, we receive more than 500 new arms license applications. Not all are given licenses, as their police records etc are checked first. So far, we have a backlog of 930 pending applications apart from the 23 new applications.”
The DC’s office said that all the 930 applicants have been asked to plant 10 saplings in addition to the files they have already submitted, paving the way for another 9,300 trees in the district. Ferozepur has handed out 21,221 arms licenses so far and receives nearly 500 applications every year.
Incidentally, Punjab has 6.87 per cent forest cover currently, still far from the target of more than 20 per cent. The four-laning of highways or road widening work across the state has also meant the uprooting of lakhs of trees.
District Commissioner Gaind said: “The process of applications will remain as it is. No doubt plantation is yet another compulsory requirement which we have added, looking at the reducing green cover of the state. This instruction I have introduced only for new applicants, later on I will introduce this instruction for renewal of existing arms licenses as well. It will add more saplings without any extra effort by the department.”
Aalok Dubey from the Aspirational Districts team of the NITI Aayog visited Ferozepur last week to oversee work done on health and nutrition but included the gun license initiative too. “I visited Ferozepur to look at the work as per the aspirational districts program. As I came across this novel idea, I planned to see this effort as well,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Jhok Hari Har village, Sandhu has planted jamun trees along the road and neem trees outside his house. “Sukhchain’s saplings have also been planted near my farm. These plants will not only give shade but passers-by can eat the jamun fruit too,” he said.
Mukhtair Singh, a farmer of Ruknewala village, has planted banyan tree saplings in the grain market, kikar and neem near his house and along the road. “A few days ago, I got the license. I am a farmer and also a commission agent. I sought a license for a .32 bore revolver for self-defence,” he said.