Gun rise: Illegal factories in Bihar, Bengal make a killing

53,272 guns were seized nationally, but country-made weapons like the one suspected to have been used to kill Gauri Lankesh flow freely

September 17, 2017 12:29 am | Updated 05:35 pm IST - Patna

A filee photo of forest personnel with a country-made gun seized from poachers in Erode.

A filee photo of forest personnel with a country-made gun seized from poachers in Erode.

The tribals in Bastar use it. The Maoists in Dandakaranya swear by it. The gangs of Mumbai kill with it, and poachers in Tamil Nadu hunt with it. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, the trade in illegal, country-made weapons thrives. Such guns include the kind suspected to have been used to murder people like Gauri Lankesh and Gulshan Kumar of T-series.

There are many variants, to suit every purse and purpose. The tribals in south Chhattisgarh and Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra call it Bharmar, a muzzle loading gun. Easy to make, it can be fired only once but 5 to 6 bullets can be fired at a time. Accuracy is suspect, though. Not that this is a serious setback, going by its widespread use, especially among the lower rung Maoists. The police in Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra continue to recover Bharmars.

The Maharashtra State Crime Records Bureau statistics show, for instance, that in 2015, there were 36 cases of murder by firearms. All of them were unlicensed weapons. In Bengaluru, country-made weapons are favoured by gangsters. Over the last two years, the police have seized 11 of them.

No longer crude

Mumbai police officers scoff at the term ‘country-made gun’ or ‘desi/gavthi katta’. The original katta had just a basic barrel and a trigger mechanism, and each round had to be loaded separately. “The barrel often got damaged after it was used a few times,” says a Central Crime Branch officer in Bengaluru. In 90% of cases, these weapons would be useless after they fired a few rounds. But today’s country-made guns are superior. They are made in factories now. “These guns can be made using a simple lathe. Over the years, illegal gun manufacturers have used the latest knowledge to make revolvers and pistols with magazines that have high tension springs and can hold nine rounds,” says Assistant Commissioner of Police Sunil Deshmukh, Dadar division. Mr. Deshmukh served in the Mumbai Crime Branch when the underworld was at its peak.

Retired Deputy Commissioner of Police Ambadas Pote adds, “The supply chain is highly organised. Once the manufacturers have an order, facilitated through an agent, they hand over the consignment to clients at spots like bus stops, lodges or secluded spots on highways.”

A lot of ammunition is provided by rogue elements from ordnance factories, who slip large amounts regularly into the black market, officers say. Sellers throw in some rounds of ammunition as part of the package,” says retired Director General of Police Rakesh Maria.

A factory-made illegal weapon costs anything from ₹10,000 to ₹12,000, including six to eight rounds of ammunition, say officers.

“In 2009, we arrested a gang that was buying weapons for ₹10,000 to ₹12,000 and selling them for ₹40,000 in Mumbai. All the accused were young, educated men from Pune simply looking to make a fast buck,” Mr. Maria recalls.

“For the most part, gangs in Bengaluru source weapons from construction labourers who come from UP, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh,” said a senior police officer. The price ranges from anywhere between ₹3,000 and ₹10,000.

Labourers bring weapons in trains and dump them in pre-arranged locations on the outskirts for buyers to pick up.

Made in Munger

In July 2013, when the special cell of Delhi police had seized 99 illegal pistols, most of them were found stamped “Only for Army use”, “Made in US” and “Made in Italy” but, all came from factories in Munger, Bihar. Similarly, in 2014, when an alleged Hizbul Mujahideen arms courier Ravesh-ul-Islam was arrested from Pathankot railway station, the two pistols recovered from him were marked “Made in US.” But, they were from Munger, the capital of country-made weapons, 250 km southeast of Patna.

Here, a katta costs only ₹300, and replicas of famed international models like Smith & Wesson, Webley and Scott revolvers, Benelli and Beretta pistols can be bought for ₹30,000 to ₹75,000. A 9 mm or 7.65 mm (the latter suspected in Gauri Lankesh’s murder) pistol goes for about ₹25,000. Local traders say a .315 rifle is available for ₹35,000.

Earlier, there used to be scores of illegal arms factories in Munger’s Bara-Maksaspur, Bardha, Baisar and Daulatpur villages, with thousands of people working in these. “With police pressure and regular patrolling, they shifted base to Bengal and others parts”, Vikas Vaibhav, Deputy Inspector General of Police (Additional charge), Munger told The Hindu.

How did Munger earn its moniker? Arms manufacturing began here in the 18th century when Mir Qasim, the then Nawab of Bengal used the artisans to make guns to fight the British. After Independence, all the small gun units were assembled at Karnchaura in the town and they continued their manufacture, under the supervision of government agencies.

“Under its new Industrial policy in 1956 the Union government banned private manufacture but renewed licenses of Munger artisans. At present, 36 gun units exist at Karnchaura in Munger district”, points out advocate Awadhesh Kumar. But, many such factories shut down, leaving a large number of workers and artisans unemployed. “They trained and set-up illegal country-made guns manufacturing units”, a local resident says.

Bihar Police records show that from 2001 to June 2017, a staggering 41,333 illegal country-made fire arms were recovered in Bihar (1,241 in the first six months of 2017). Also, 599 illegal gun factories were unearthed and 2,29,647 cartridges seized. “There has been a drastic reduction in illegal arms manufacturing units in Munger in the last one year, Ashish Bharti, Munger Superintendent of Police said. They had shifted largely to Malda and Howrah in West Bengal and some parts of Jharkhand, he said. “Here they come for assembling work only,” he added.

On where the ammunition comes from, a police official in Patna, said: “From black marketing. Those who have arms licenses have a quota of 200 cartridges a year. There is no check on how they use the ammunition”.

In Tamil Nadu, police describe the western belt from Dharmapuri to Theni as vulnerable to activities of Maoists, poachers, smugglers and other anti-social elements. In the early 1990s, police busted a small factory making AK-47 rifles for the LTTE group. The machinery then seized is now part of the police museum there. Having seven forest ranges close to the Nilgiris biosphere reserve, poachers use country-made guns, mainly in the rural areas.

“In Coimbatore, we found members of a particular tribe (Narikkuravar) sourcing parts of guns and assembling them. Iron balls used in ball bearings were used as shot. They were using gunpowder to create the pressure for the projectile,” said M. Senthil Kumar, District Forest Officer between 2013 and 2015.

Azamgarh and Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh have acquired notoriety as manufacturing hubs. The gun that killed Gulshan Kumar was a “Made in Bamhaur,” weapon.

UP is the undisputed leader when it comes to recovery of illegal weapons. In the last two years for which data is available, 49,081 illegal arms were seized. As per the National Crime Records Bureau report of 2014, as much as 44.3% of the total illegal arms seized in the country —24,583 out of 55,453—was from UP. In 2015, UP’s contribution rose to 46% of the total seizures in the country: 24,498 out of 53,272.

S. Anand, Additional Superintendent of the Special Task Force branch of UP police that deals with organized crime, says “the highest number of crimes” committed in the State involve illegal weapons or country-made weapons. There is not a district in UP where such “karkhanas” or manufacturing units are not found, some of them operating out of homes. “Most of the tools used can be put into a trunk and transported to some other location,” Mr. Anand adds.

The demand for illegal weapons in UP peaks during elections. During the 2017 UP Assembly election season, the State police raided scores of units. The single biggest haul came in January in the communally-sensitive Shamli district, adjoining Muzaffarnagar: police seized 203 illegal weapons (123 guns and 80 pistols) and 500 semi-formed country-made pistols, and busted three factories.

S. R. Darapuri, a retired IPS officer based in Lucknow, says that criminals procure cartridges for the simpler weapons on their own, but for quality weapons, their source are the police themselves.

Mr. Darapuri, who retired as an Inspector General of Police, says lower rank policemen have been known to sell bullets to potential criminals or buyers. He said he learnt of many such instances during his time with the Provincial Armed Constabulary, the armed unit of UP police.

The ‘dishonesty’ is helped by the fact that during submission of cartridge shells at the store of ammunition, they are counted not by number but by weight. “Some policemen mix mud to compensate the missing shells,” he says.

Bullets are also smuggled out during the annual firing session for policemen to test efficiency and practice, Mr. Darapuri said.

Reporting by: S. Vijay Kumar in Chennai, Wilson Thomas in Coimbatore, Omar Rashid in Lucknow, Amarnath Tewary in Patna, Gautam Mengle in Mumbai, Pavan Dahat in Chhattisgarh and Imran Gowhar in Bengaluru

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