Srinagar: Said to have been awash with deadly AK-47s for over a decade, Jammu and Kashmir now appears to be home to a new, elite gun culture promoted by the government itself.
Nearly one lakh gun licenses have been issued in Srinagar district alone during the past years—an apt indication of the lethal trend elsewhere in the state.
The fact was confirmed by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah himself in March 2011 when he told the legislature that the Jammu and Kashmir government had issued 51,622 licences in just the two previous years.
Alarmingly, the district administration here is unable to say how many Prohibited Bore weapons, including 9 mm pistols and revolvers, have been sanctioned.
This particularly when politicians figure prominently among those now licensed to possess arms, second only to applicants from the Army, the paramilitary forces and the police.
Though the administration has divulged the number of gun licenses issued in Srinagar—96,716 and counting—in response to an RTI query by the Kashmir Reader, it has refused to answer on crucial details.
Even after the Delhi Police said that several security personnel who had been issued such permits by authorities in Jammu and Kashmir had turned out to be fake and bogus on verification.
Inevitably, the administration has sought shelter in the “national security” clause of the RTI Act not only to suppress information vital for public interest but also to cover up its own ineptitude.
Even basic details like the number of politicians and Army, paramilitary and police personnel who have acquired firearm licenses under the state’s liberal gun regime are unavailable because the task (of such record-keeping) is “too voluminous.”
Interestingly, the state government has explicit directives from the Union Home Ministry (circular No. V-11016/16/2009) to maintain meticulous records and a comprehensive data base on gun licenses, particularly with respect to Prohibited Bore weapons which, the ministry stressed, were to be monitored by it centrally.
“State governments are being requested to instruct all DMs to maintain a comprehensive and complete data base of all licenses issued by them, which may be shared with the central government,” the Home Ministry circular to all state’s and union territories says.
Further, the government’s munificence in issuing licences for firearms, with All India Validity, has turned into a boon for gun manufacturers in Jammu.
The province already has a large number of government-issued weapons in civilian hands under the garb of Village Defence Committees, and is home to around 30 gun manufacturing units with about 150 dealers.
Just two such units survive in Kashmir, both located in downtown Srinagar, and are together subject to a production cap of 1000 pieces per year.
Allowed to produce only Non-Prohibited Bore weapons, these traditional gunsmiths are too ill-equipped and hampered by curbs to generate even this quota.