The popular tourist destination of Udaipur has emerged as a hub for illegal firearms smuggled into the city from the neighbouring state of Madhya Pradesh, prompting police to launch a crack down that has led to the arrest of 25 people this year.
Police have seized 28 unlicenced firearms, including locally made pistols, since the beginning of the year. During the past year, they seized 59 illegal firearms and arrested 81 criminals, officials said.
Officials said criminals began bringing illegal firearms to Udaipur from Khargone, Bhind and Morena in Madhya Pradesh in 1998 after businessmen dealing in handicrafts started hiring armed men to intimidate guides to bring tourists to their shops.
An officer who served as superintendent of police of Udaipur in the late 1990s recalled that there would be one or two shooting incidents in the city every year in those days.
The criminals involved in intimidating tourist guides allegedly had links with criminal gangs in Ahmedabad and Mumbai. They were also linked to gangs that extorted money from marble factory owners in Rajasthan.
The 2005 killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, who was allegedly shot while he was in police custody, had exposed the extortion racket, an official pointed out.
Udaipur is best known for its Rajput-era palaces, some of which have been turned into hotels, and picturesque lakes that attract droves of tourists.
Over the past few years, Udaipur’s superintendent of police Ajay Pal Lamba said, the criminals had branched out into illegal land deals.
“Most land around Udaipur is either forest land or belongs to tribal people. A tribal’s land cannot be bought by a non-tribal, so these criminals started launching one tribal against the other to make quick bucks in real estate,” a police official said.
Lamba said police were booking businessmen who hire criminals to arm-twist their rivals at gunpoint.
“This has brought down the number of (shooting incidents) a little but the major problem is with bail. We book them under sections of the Arms Act and they get bail in three to four days,” he said.
“There are some six to seven criminals in the district who have gone to jail at least five times in a year for illegal arms. They come out and get back to the same business,” he said.
A former inspector general of police said Udaipur had been a hub of major crimes for several years. “The first terrorist attack in Rajasthan was in Udaipur in the 1980s, when militants from Punjab opened fire in the heart of the city and killed a deputy superintendent of police,” he said.