Mahabir Pandit, 70, has been making guns at one of Munger’s gun manufacturing units since he was 20. Pandit’s son, Ravi, however, has not taken up his father’s profession which has been a tradition in his family that goes back to several generations.
“He is into carpentry and doing brisk business,” said Pandit, happy over the fact that his son thought of cutting away from the job as it is not lucrative anymore.
Similarly 69-year-old Pramod Sharma, a gun maker since he was 19, did not encourage his sons to join the profession which his family has been doing for the last four generations.
“Gun manufacturing factories in Munger and across India are closing down but the government does not seem interested in reviving them at all,” said Sharma, chiselling a barrel in his factory - name kept secret due to security norms - with thick glasses on.
“Hence, we kept our children away from stupidly following the tradition and spoiling their lives in the bargain,” he added.
Sharma and Pandit are not the only ones from the traditional gun making families of Munger who have refused to pass on their skills to the next generation - there are at least a 1,000 more like them. With them, the 200-year-old skill that gave Munger national and international recognition will die.
The factory owners are worried, but they cannot help as the government’s no gun policy threatens to rob their livelihood too. With Munger going to poll in the first of five-phase Bihar assembly elections slated for October 12, they are thinking about building pressure on the candidates to force the government to ease the lengthy and cumbersome gun licensing procedures.
“The gun market in India is at the mercy of the district magistrates (DM), who enjoy supreme powers wrested to them under the archaic Arms Rule of 1959,” said Saurabh Nidhi, proprietor of Pfizer and Co, one of the oldest and leading gun manufacturers of Munger.
“These DMs are killing the industry, robbing jobs of scores of skilled craftsmen in the process. The government is looking the other way. With elections on, we will vote for the candidates who will pledge to support our dying industry,” Nidhi, who is also president of Munger district Congress committee, added.
Of the nearly 60 legal gun factories in the country, there are 36 gun manufacturing units in Munger and of them four have already downed their shutters while several others are on the verge of closure. From a total of 1,200, the workforce in the industrial campus at Karnchauda Fort area housing the gun factories has come down to a meagre 230.
Across India, 20,000 guns are manufactured annually in the gun factories spread over seven states in India. Against the sanctioned quota of manufacturing 12,352 guns, the factories in Munger today produce only 2,800 guns and the production is further going down due to decreasing demand.
Factory owners say all was well till 2000 as the then governments in Bihar and neighbouring states, especially Uttar Pradesh, distributed Form III to procure gun license with ease.
“From 1992 to 2000, the Uttar Pradesh government distributed 1.5 lakh gun licenses to its citizenry raising the demand for better quality guns. Since Munger guns were and are still considered the best in the country, we supplied in bulk to meet the pouring demand from the neighbouring state,” said a manufacturer.
After 2000, the demand fell steeply as the Bihar and UP governments made gun licensing procedures complex and DMs just stopped entertaining the applicants. Scores of young and skilled workers, who got their initial training at Munger gun factories, migrated to similar facilities in Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Assam and Madhya Pradesh against higher salaries. Only the older ones stayed back.
Local police claim that a few jobless gun makers have joined hands with criminals and got into the business of making guns illegally for open markets, a charge their families and former bosses vehemently deny.
Nidhi said, “Munger Police in the last one year have busted around 300 illegal mini gun factories, but all those arrested in the raids so far are new faces who had never worked with any of the 36 legal gun factories.”
With the Union home ministry seeking to change the 56-year-old arms act and cutting down on the lengthy procedure to obtain a license within a specific time, hopes of the revival of Munger’s traditional gun factories have rekindled.
As per the New Indian Arms Rule 2015, the police and DMs will have to clear files within 75 days of the filing of the application. The rule also proposes to invite FDI in the sector.
Owning a made in Munger gun might become easier soon.