- India’s biggest gun-running scandal is waiting to explode into a massive controversy, and may throw up the names of certain high profile individuals and senior Jammu and Kashmir state government officials
- As the investigation is proceeding in the matter, several individuals in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have filed for anticipatory bail fearing arrest
- Call intercepts of certain senior state officials reveal interesting conversations that bureaucrats had with the the cartel
New Delhi: India’s biggest gun-running scandal is waiting to explode into a massive controversy, and may throw up the names of certain high profile individuals and senior Jammu and Kashmir state government officials. As the investigation is proceeding in the matter, several individuals in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have filed for anticipatory bail fearing arrest.
Sources told Firstpost that the entire scam was carried out at two levels within the state machinery of Jammu and Kashmir — district-level officials including district collectors and other senior officers of the state home department. So far the investigation has primarily focussed on officers from district level, however, the role of state home department manned by senior IAS officers cannot be ruled out. Word is that top bureaucrats, too, were involved in facilitating the validation of license across the whole country; however, the probe still remains at the preliminary stages.
Representational image. PTI
“It has been two years since the scandal tumbled out. But nothing will be found by investigating district-level officials as a lot of time has passed. Moreover, the district collectors and members of their staff, whose calls were monitored, have already destroyed certain records linked to the case. The main culprits are Jammu and Kashmir state home department officials, who signed on the sensitive files, approving licenses with pan-India validity to anyone who had deep pockets. So far their roles have not been thoroughly investigated,” a source said.
According to top sources, names of owner of Adarsh Credit Cooperative Society, and his nephew have popped up during the probe in over two lakh fake arms licenses across the country. He is already in jail in connection with Rs 9,000 crore housing society-scam. His nephew had faked a Jammu domicile certificate to procure a licensed gun while studying at a college in Pune. The investigators have recorded the statement of college principal and collected other evidence like call records and attendance register.
The documents reviewed by Firstpost highlight that fake arms license scam was brazenly carried out by state officials in clear violations of rules. Call intercepts of certain senior state officials reveal interesting conversations that bureaucrats had with the the cartel. One of the officer is heard telling someone, “Investigators will not be able to touch us, so don’t panic.’
In another interception, a record keeper in the district collector’s office was advised to ‘get admitted to a hospital’, just before the office was raided. It was apparently a move to help him avoid grilling by the agency sleuths.
Later, a clerk from Kupwara district collector’s office said that records related to issuance of arms license were destroyed in the rain and flood. An IAS officer and former District Collector of Jammu, when quizzed, told the investigators that ‘everybody was doing such things ( issuing fake arms license) so why is he being singled out?’
The Central Bureau of Investigation officials, however, claimed that the probe in over two lakh fake arms license case and the subsequent searches earlier this week are just the tip of the iceberg. Officials said the meticulous probe by the agency since July 2019 and at least two rounds of raids at the premises of suspects is just the prelude to the unravelling of a scam, where big players made a fortune by selling fake arms licenses and supplying sophisticated weapons to businessman, builders and even to certain journalists based in Delhi.
“It is true that all the names that have been revealed so far is from lower level of the government. We need to question these people to uncover the bigger players and operators of gun-running cartel. Individual beneficiaries are being probed to ascertain whether they knowingly purchased the fake arms license and weapons. In some cases, 2-3 guns were issued on the same license and it appears that huge amount of kickbacks were paid to the authorities to circumvent the rules,” the CBI officials said.
The well-bred network involving a cartel spread in several states have been providing fake license in the name of serving and retired army jawans, fictitious residents of various districts like Kupwara and Baramula since 2006 at a huge price.
Rules are considerably relaxed for military personnel posted in the Valley who wish to keep a personal weapon. They can get arms licences from any district they are posted in on the recommendation of a letter from the commanding officer of their unit, and they can skip the verification process which other ordinary citizens are required to undergo. It is this loophole that was exploited by the masterminds running the racket and arms licenses were allegedly issued even to people who have never had any connection with the armed forces.
When the first operation was launched by the Rajasthan Anti-Terror Squad team led by decorated IPS officer Vikas Kumar, it was estimated that number of fake licenses issued from 22 districts of Jammu and Kashmir could be more than five or six lakh. The CBI officials believe that the racket, which began more than a decade ago might have sold more than five lakh illegals arms license and weapons across the country.
“So far investigation reveals that more than 60-70 individuals of gun-running cartel in Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon and Jammu andKashmir were involved. Some high-profile names are still under the surveillance and appropriate action at an opportune time will be taken against the culprits. We need to dismantle the entire chain of those making fake licenses and others who are supplying arms on the basis of fake licenses,” the CBI official further added.
It is pertinent to mention that the operation to dismantle this fake arms license and gun-running racket was first launched in 2017 when undercover police officers and a backup anti- terror team had unearthed around 50,000 fake arms license issued from only one district, Kupwara. Subsequently, the net was widened to nab more players involved in the gun-running cartel.
There are three key players of the cartel- Zuber, Vishal and Rahul who operated as a team playing the role of a retailer, supplier and manufacturer of the fake arms licenses. The trio had roped in several licensed arms dealer to buy weapon at a price ranging from Rs. 10-12 lakh. A woman, part of the gun-running cartel has turned approver in this case. Sources said, she has also named a senior state officer, who has been posted in Delhi since 2015.
“A lower level officer has also revealed that this officer, now under the scanner, was facilitating issuance of fake arms license from Jammu and Kashmir while sitting in Delhi. The call records of the gun running cartel show that some of the senior state home department officers were directly in touch with them while others were operating through their clerk and personal assistants. A state home department officer who was summoned for questioning apparently told the investigators that it was a government matter and he will not disclose anything without an approval from the state government. He was threatened with arrest but ultimately refused to cooperate with the investigation,” sources said.