Shooting as a sport has grown manifold over the past decade and the pulse can be felt at the national championships and domestic tournaments, where youngsters, lugging rifles and pistols in cumbersome cases, throng the venues in droves. But while the sport has given India many icons - and a dream to many aspirants - it has also given rise to corruption, which is now weakening the roots on which the sport is thriving.
A nexus involving leading achievers, coaches, arms companies, the national federation and state associations is pulling down the edifice on which the sport stands. While in the early days - when a handful of shooters were allowed to import air rifles/pistols - officials accompanying teams as managers, coaches and armourers brought back guns and sold them at thrice the value to aspiring shooters, the role has now been taken over by leading shooters of the country.
Most gun and ammunition companies offer 10-15% commission to its dealers in India and, little wonder, all these brands are being represented by NRAI officials and top marksmen who know the intricacies of import. In fact, the NRAI and SAI are the distributors of one of the biggest brands in the world and their names are there on the company website.
The commission apart, an artificial shortage is created to jack up the prices and a subsidised .22 cartridge, costing between Rs4-5 per piece to the federation, may be priced upwards of Rs15 in the grey market. HT is in possession of a document which shows how not even a single piece of equipment can be imported directly from a top equipment-manufacturing company in the world. You can only go through its country agent, who invariably is a top shooter.
Tough to acquire
We are not talking about any prohibitively expensive equipment; but about the wretched air gun pellets, which, every aspiring shooter will know, is more difficult to get than a unit of blood. The team preparing for the World University Games last year had to run from pillar to post for a few boxes of pellets. And finally, they shelled out Rs900 for a box from a dealer, which costs no more than Rs400. "Little wonder, out of every 100 civilian taking up the sport, only five make it to the national level," said a leading marksman.
Bulk quantities are being imported by NRAI and its affiliates but where they go after landing in the country no one knows, as shooters keep complaining about shortage of ammunition. It is even more curious that a shooter who remains in national camps for more than six months in a year - where everything is taken care of by the government - how does he utilise his 15,000 rounds which he is allowed to import duty-free. Talk to people in the know and they will show you the 'silk route'.
This nexus has flourished because everything in this sport is imported and profits are unimaginable. Talent nurturing be damned.