Bengal 4th in illegal firearm seizure, oppn says state suppressing figuresUpdated: Nov 05, 2019 23:51 IST
With 2743 unlicensed firearms seized in 2017, Bengal stands fourth in the country and first among all eastern states. It follows Rajasthan (5949 seizures), Madhya Pradesh (10051 seizures) and Uttar Pradesh, the topper with 21809 seizures, according to the latest report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
In 2017, Bengal also figured among the 13 states and Union Territories where juveniles got involved in Arms Act related crimes.
Bihar, which was traditionally thought to be the region’s biggest manufacturer of illegal firearms, thanks to the skilled gunsmiths of Munger district, has fallen behind with only 2197 firearm seizures. In seizure of ammunition, however, Bihar tops the list while Bengal comes third in the country.
Police officers HT talked to said that in recent years they have noticed a rising demand for firearms not only among criminals and people carrying out violence on behalf of political parties but also among a section of common people who, till the day they were caught, had no record of violence.
“While probing the recent murder of a student we found that the former boyfriend of the girl he was seeing shot him out of jealousy with an improvised pistol he bought only to settle scores. Ten years ago the youths might have gone for a fistfight. This is a new gun culture and not related to Bengal’s long history of political violence since the pre-Independence era,” said a North 24 Parganas district police officer who did not wish to be named.
“On the other hand, we also see guns being used by groups fighting for control over fisheries or real estate business,” the officer added.
In some districts, the hunt for illegal guns has become a routine affair for the police.
“We conduct raids round the year. A huge amount of arms and ammunition have been seized in the district. Since July 2019, we have seized more than 100 firearms and arrested around 12 people,” said Mukesh Kumar, superintendent of police, Murshidabad district which is located along the Bangladesh border and has several crime-prone pockets.
“In the last three months, 13 people have been arrested and more than 75 firearms and a huge quantity of ammunitions seized. We busted two manufacturing units,” said Rashid Munir Khan, superintendent of police, Baruipur police district in South 24 Parganas.
Sharp rise in demand for guns in Bengal has also given birth to new business models and outsourcing of skill. In May 2018, for example, four men were arrested in Lakhisarai, Bihar, with 80 unfinished semi-automatic pistols made in Bengal. The men were taking the pistols to Munger to get these finished. They told the police that local gunsmiths would get around Rs 5,000 for finishing each piece.
Significantly, leaders of all opposition parties questioned the NCRB data, alleging that the Trinamool Congress (TMC) government neither allows the police to seize all illegal firearms nor provides correct data to the Centre.
“NCRB does not prepare a ground report, otherwise Bengal, and not UP, would have topped the list. Does the Centre know how many people in Bengal have died of dengue? Similarly, it does not have the data on illegal weapons,” said Congress MP from Berhampore and leader of the party in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) Lok Sabha member Md Salim said a spike in demand for illegal firearms is fuelling the boom in such weapons.
“The NCRB data is just the tip of the iceberg, not the real picture. Police cannot touch those who live under the protection of the TMC. Earlier, guns used to come from Munger. Now these are made in Bengal because the demand-supply ratio demands so,” Md Salim said.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is locked in a turf war with the TMC in Bengal said the state has become synonymous with guns and bombs.
“Central security agencies have said in their reports that weapons are shipped from Bengal to insurgents in the Northeast through Bangladesh. Guns and bombs comprise Bengal’s industry. The political killings prove it,” said BJP state general secretary Sayantan Basu.
The TMC rubbished opposition charges saying the seizures only proved that the police was proactive in its job.
“Opposition leaders will always say absurd things to gain mileage. The rise in seizure proves that our police is proactive and impartial,” said a TMC member of Parliament who did not wish to be named since chief minister Mamata Banerjee is the state’s home minister.
Some feel that the rise in illegal weapons is not just limited to criminals with political patronage.
“The phenomenon is a fallout of the increasing use of money and muscle power, not just in politics but every sphere. More guns are being seized because more guns are being used. I have seen college students brandishing guns even in the early 1990s but now there is a decadence in values,” said Kolkata-based political science professor Udayan Bandopadhyay.