Till two weeks ago, everyone in Meerut knew Prasant Bishnoi as a minor celebrity with a soft corner for guns and luxury cars.
The son of a 1971 war veteran, Bishnoi was a national-level shooter whose palatial house in Meerut’s posh Saket Colony and his bevy of high-end SUVs was the talk of the town.
But everything changed on April 29, when officers of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence unearthed a huge cache of imported rifles, shotguns and pistols along with scores of animal parts, antlers, leopard skins and Rs 1 crore in cash.
Visuals of the 17-hour-raid beamed on TV shocked neighbours and others from the shooting fraternity. Bishnoi is now absconding and his father and family say they had no idea he was running a business in illegal import of arms.
But for the DRI, Bishnoi was only the first target in what they think is a well-oiled nationwide nexus between foreign middlemen and competitive shooters that has smuggled in hundreds of firearms in the past two decades.
In three days, the agency recovered more than 100 firearms and 200,000 cartridges. And, it arrested two renowned shooters, Amit Goyal and Anil Kumar Langan and an arms dealer from Slovenia, Boris Sobotic Mikolic.
The government has tightened the norms and enforced a nationwide crackdown, and shooters are worried that genuine sportspeople will be harassed.
“Activities of a few people can ruin all the hard work talented shooters have put in. Officials must protect genuine sportspersons,” said Vedpal Singh, range-in-charge of Meerut District Rifle Association.
Goyal, Langan and Mikolic were intercepted at Delhi’s international airport when they arrived with 25 firearms and ammunition on a Turkish Airlines flight from Slovenia on April 29. They allegedly tried to get through the customs check point by misusing import policies meant for shooters. When interrogated, they named Bishnoi and some other people. DRI officers suspect someone at the airport tipped off Bishnoi and he disappeared before the raiding team could reach Meerut.
Fake shooter identity proofs are suspected to have been used to import not only firearms used in sports but also semi-automatic shotguns and Glock and Beretta pistols that have no use in games recognised by the International Shooting Sports Federation.
At the centre of the racket is a ban in 1984 that doesn’t allow non-sportspeople civilians with valid gun licences to import firearms. “We are exploring all angles and will question everybody who could be a part of these operations,” Raj Kumar Digvijay, additional director, DRI, Delhi zone, told HT.
“Had the ban been lifted, no smuggling would be taking place today,” said Rahul Rai, a renowned shooter and president of National Association for Gun Rights India, the only platform for civilians owning firearms.