From Munger to NCR, an inside account of how Delhi’s criminals source their arms
Till a decade ago, the illegal arms factories of Munger in Bihar almost always found a way in the confessions of criminals caught with guns in Delhi. Today, Munger, about 1,200km from Delhi, is no longer a source of concern for the police in the national capital, for the trend of Delhi’s criminals sourcing weapons from Bihar’s infamous factories has dissipated, according to key police officials.
But that’s where the good news ends. The police have a bigger worry. In Delhi, when, on an average, there are at least two incidents involving the use of firearms in crimes every day, factories have now mushroomed in the vicinity of the capital itself. Those who ran the small arms factories in Munger have now joined hands and trained people in western Uttar Pradesh. HT spoke to many police officers, both retired and serving, to understand the market of illegal gun trade in Delhi.
The last time Munger’s illegal firearm factories were in the headlines was in March 2020, when a 7.65 bore countrymade pistol was seized from the house of Shahrukh Pathan, the north east Delhi resident whose video of pointing the gun at a policeman during Delhi riots went viral on the internet — the pistol was manufactured in Munger. A year later, the Delhi Police have not been able to arrest the person from whom Pathan had purchased the gun or locate the factory in Munger where it was manufactured, despite multiple visits to the district.
“This is because illegal gun factories in Munger have got crippled in the last five-six years and those skilled in the trade have shifted themselves to other states. They are now adopting newer strategies to earn their livelihood. In fact, the skilled labourers of those factories are now being hired by gun runners who are operating from Delhi’s neighbourhood such as Meerut and Aligarh,” said a crime branch officer.
From Munger to west UP
Between 2012 and 2015, the Delhi Police’s special cell and crime branch teams would make at least two visits every month to Munger to bust owners of illegal gun factories, arrest gunrunners and people involved in the trafficking chain, following any recovery of illicit firearms in Delhi. These days, the teams hardly visit the district once a year.
But the use of illicit arms in street crimes such as robbery and dacoity in the national capital, or the numbers of seizure of such guns, has not gone down. What has happened is that manufacturing units have come closer to clients, police officers working on gunrunning rackets said.
Earlier, illegal gun factories of Munger catered to 60% to 70% of total supply of illicit guns in Delhi and its neighbouring states while Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone, Khandwa, Burhanpur and Dhar were the secondary suppliers. But in the last two-three years, the trend has changed. Gunrunners based in Meerut, Aligarh and a few other places in western Uttar Pradesh are now catering to a majority of the demands of illicit firearms by criminals in Delhi-NCR.
This is also evident from the fact that Delhi Police and UP Police have been taking action against illegal gun factories and gunrunners in recent times in this area.
On March 27, the UP Police seized 133 illicit firearms after busting four illegal gun factories and arresting eight gunrunners in Meerut.
A week before that, Delhi Police arrested five men with three countrymade pistols, which, the men revealed, they had procured from one Aamir Saifi, a gunrunner based in Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut. Just five days before their arrest, the same team had seized 10 guns from six arrested persons, including a trafficker of illicit firearms — it was during their questioning that the name of Aamir Saifi as a key supplier of the weapons surfaced.
Similarly, in June last year, an illegal mini-arms factory with 516 firearm barrels, 10 manufactured pistols, and lots of manufacturing parts, was busted in Aligarh following a joint raid by Delhi’s special cell and Aligarh police.
Decoding the shift
There are various reasons behind the shifting of illegal gun factories from Munger to Delhi’s outskirts. But the primary among them were the non-stop raids, seizures and arrests in Munger by the Bihar police as well as police from other states, and the proximity between the suppliers and the clients, experts as well as police officers from Bihar and Delhi said.
“The last prominent raid in Munger was carried out last year, when the Delhi Police teams camped in the district for several days to arrest the gunrunner through whom Shahrukh Pathan (mentioned above) had purchased the pistol that he had pointed at a policeman during the Delhi riots. Since then, no state police have carried out any operation in Munger. These days, mostly notices are received from other state police following the arrest of Munger’s illegal gun manufacturers in their states,” said Manavjit Singh Dhillon, superintendent of police (Munger).
Retired Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Ashok Chand said that the Delhi Police’s crackdown on gun factories in Munger started in 2012 following a murder case wherein a man allegedly killed his wife and in-laws using a countrymade pistol that was found to be manufactured in Munger.
With that information and the fact that a majority of the illegal firearms seized during that period had Munger links, the then police chief Neeraj Kumar directed the special cell and crime branch teams to neutralise the entire nexus, said Chand.
“For the next three-four years, Delhi and Munger police carried out incessant drives against illegal gun factories, forcing criminals involved in the unlawful trade to shift their bases and adopt newer strategies to run their business,” said Chand.
Between 2017 and 2018, at least 125 AK-47s, fabricated from parts of weapons presumably phased out or condemned by the army and dumped in its stores in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, reached Bihar’s Munger and then found their way into the hands of Maoists and gangsters. The recovery of many such guns and arrests of some key players grabbed the government’s attention and the national investigation agency (NIA) was roped in to investigate the matter.
“The crackdown that followed nearly wiped out the deadly arms factories from the district and a majority of the skilled labourers shifted,” said another Delhi Police’s crime branch officer.
The new operational manual
Even as the illegal gun trade from Munger has declined, it has led to dislocation rather — with people involved in the manufacturing, supply and sale of firearms now hiring skilled workers from Munger, and shifting them to places around Delhi, thereby creating newer fabrication hubs, smaller in scale and more dispersed.
As most of the firearms were caught during their transit, the gunrunners adopted the strategy of looking for safe zones around Delhi. The gunrunners look for low income group neighbourhoods, take houses on rent for three-four months, set up their machines and begin assembling firearms, said deputy commissioner of police (special cell) Sanjeev Kumar Yadav.
“Many of the gunrunners we have arrested and interrogated in the last two-three years revealed that they hire blacksmiths from Munger skilled in manufacturing sophisticated guns, procure raw materials such as springs, butt and barrels from different places and assemble the guns in their temporary gun factories,” said Yadav.
Unlike earlier, when gunrunners used to transit bigger consignments from Munger or Madhya Pradesh, suppliers have now become careful and take many precautions while adopting newer ways to smuggle illegal weapons into Delhi. They mostly procure raw materials from their older hubs, and the assemble guns at rented places around Delhi. Deals between clients and supplies are no longer happening in open telephone calls but encrypted mobile applications to avoid police attention and stay away from their radar.
Analysis of confessional statements reveal that traffickers of illegal firearms avoid taking the border routes which are under close police watch. When railways are used, the operators prefer not to land at the stations located in Delhi but get down at stoppages just before Delhi and from there, use local public transport to enter the city.
In many cases, women accompany the male carriers and they pose as couples to avoid police attention while travelling in private vehicles or in public transport. Police have also found that hiding the illegal firearms in special cavities created in a car doors or boot is another way of smuggling such weapons.
Assembling a pistol takes just a day or two and the total investment is between ₹2,000 and ₹3,000. The gun is finally sold at prices ranging between ₹20,000 and ₹30,000, depending on its quality.
The high profit margin has made this illegal business lucrative, attracting people who want to become rich overnight, said Chand, who last served in Delhi Police’s crime branch.
Over a decade ago, the demands of firearms in Delhi and other north Indian states were fulfilled not only by the gunrunners based in Munger or Madhya Pradesh—supplies also came from Pakistan. Earlier, foreign-made firearms, mostly Chinese guns, were in high demand among gangsters and criminals because their quality was seen to be better than the crude pistols manufactured in India’s illegal factories.
“And it was the reason that even Indian Mujahideen (IM) terrorists had involved themselves in the illegal trade. One illegal firearm manufacturing factory that was set up by IM’s co-founder Yasin Bhatkal was busted by the Delhi Police in 2011. I was on the force then and many such operations were carried out across the country,” said Chand.
But as the smuggled foreign-made guns were costly and risky to traffick across borders, the gunrunners in India started using good metal and materials to manufacture guns of better quality.
“Unlike the previous crudely made pistols, the barrels of these sophisticated pistols do not burst after one or two shots or cause injuries to the users,” explained Chand.
The impact on Delhi’s crime scene
Even as the Delhi Police data shows that the use of firearms in crimes in the city has decreased over the past three-four years, on an average, two crimes, in which firearms were used, were reported everyday in this period.
Police data shows that firearms were used in 672 crimes in 2020 while in 2019 this number was 736. Similarly, there were 897 cases of use of firearms in crimes in 2017 and the number came down to 810 the following year (2018).
In March 2021 alone, there have been at least 20 cases wherein firearms were used for street crimes such as robbery and snatching or heinous crimes like murder and attempt to murder. On March 25, a group of seven-eight assailants opened fire at a police team at GTB Hospital in their bid to release a jailed gangster.
On March 23, in a suspected gang rivalry case, four motorcycle-borne assailants fired nearly two dozen bullets in south Delhi’s Dakshinpuri to kill a 31-year-old meat shop owner. Around a week ago, a 45-year-old chartered accountant was shot dead at his under construction building in Adarsh Nagar during a robbery bid. On March 12, two armed men who were out for snatching fired and injured a policeman after he tried to stop their motorcycle and overpower them in Defence Colony area.
These incidents show that criminals carrying firearms become violent even during snatching a gold chain or a mobile phone. They do not hesitate in firing on the police as well.
Be it crude or refined, guns continue to be the favourite weapon of criminals, as they are the ultimate display of power for them. There is no better way of defining the stature of a criminal than by mentioning what kind of weapons he posses or uses, says deputy commissioner of police (crime) Chinmoy Biswal, who is also Delhi Police’s spokesperson.
But Biswal also said that police have launched a massive crackdown on illegal guns and the number of weapons every year is proof of that.