Haryana’s Mewat is NCR’s new hub of illegal arm makers
Notorious previously for its cattle smugglers, Mewat in southern Haryana, has emerged as a new hub of illegal arms makers, say police. The gunrunners have an intricate network of manufacturing and supply. HT’s Leena Dhankhar travels to the heart of these operations in Mewat to see how dealers of illegal weapons are churning out guns out of mere scrap
Katta, aslah: The folklore
From Maoists in dense forests to criminal gangs in Delhi-NCR, improvised guns have always been the weapons of choice for outlaws. They are cheaper, easy to procure, practically untraceable and easy to dispose — wiping out a crucial lead in criminal investigation. According to the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report, in 2016, of the 1,863 firearms recovered in Haryana, 1,799 were countrymade weapons (crude/ improvised). In Delhi, of the 774 arms seized, 765 were made locally. In Uttar Pradesh, of the 17,429 seized weapons, 16,990 were made locally in illegal factories.
Police officers who have busted gunrunning rackets and investigated smuggling of illegal weapons in Haryana say that traditionally many of these operations were traced to Munger district of Bihar and some in Sahebganj and Malda districts of Jharkhand and West Bengal. These districts were hubs of the legal gun business in India once. However, a large number of skilled gunmakers went out of jobs after the demand for guns tanked due to cumbersome licensing process and the rising costs. Police officers say many of the skilled workers joined gunrunners since they had no source of sustenance. This, they say, may explain the variety and good quality of illegal guns.
With bare minimum technology, they are able to produce all kinds of guns — from pistols to the three-naught-three and assault rifles.
Delhi-NCR is both the biggest market as well as the hub of smuggling of illegal weapons, say police officers. This is one of the reasons why, according to sources, gunmakers have been shifting base closer to Delhi-NCR. In Haryana, at least 10 villages have been on the radar of security agencies and the local police for illegal guns manufacturing. The racket came to light when several local criminals were arrested with these handmade guns. Last year, on July 27, a 45-year-old TV channel staffer was shot dead on Jharsa Road. Police probe established that he was shot with a countrymade pistol sourced from Mewat. On June 7, this year, two criminals arrested for shooting at an HR manager in Gurugram had also told the police that they bought the guns from Mewat.
The Mewat connection
Mewat, officially Nuh district, corresponds to the ancient kingdom of Matsya, which has been mentioned in the epic, Mahabharata. The region, which shares its boundaries with Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, has a population of about a million as per the 2011 Census and a literacy rate of 56% — the lowest in Haryana.
“The crime rate in Mewat is lowest in Haryana but nearly 100 gangs are active in the areas bordering the district. These gangs are mostly involved in cheating, vehicle theft and carjacking,” Nuh superintendent of police Rajesh Duggal said, adding that at least 30 of them are big gangs.
Traditionally, criminals from the region had been involved in cattle theft. The notoriety that these gangs had earned the region is such that any criminal gang involved in cattle theft, highway robberies and kidnapping would be termed ‘Mewati gang’ by local police. The term was lapped up by the media and often news reports would be headlined ‘Mewati gang busted’.
However, police officers have warned that the modern criminals active in the region have graduated from just being cattle thieves to kidnapping, card frauds and vehicle thefts. Behind the security that one of the most inaccessible, narrow lanes provide — where even police teams fear to tread — these criminal gangs operate with impunity.
Gunmaking is, however, is new even for Mewat. The police are yet to confirm whether the gunmakers have been trained by those who shifted base from Bihar to UP, or by somebody else. The scale of the operation could be gauged from the fact that the trade is going on in at least 10 villages of the district. Jhimrawat, Jamalgarh, Luhingya, Singar, Rithad, Nai Tirwada, Pachgaon, Adbar, Ghasera and Lingua Kalan are on the police radar for suspected illegal gun manufacturing.
The making of a Mewati gun
Hindustan Times travelled to the heart of the operation in villages of Mewat and Uttar Pradesh.
The rendezvous was fixed at a house in Jhimrawat village, which turned out to be a one-room property, situated next to a cattle shelter. At the promised hour, 10 men with a sheet of cotton cloth covering their faces, revealing just the eyes, approached the HT correspondent, hoping for a big order from a “buyer from Gurugram”. They led the correspondent to an agricultural field, nearly two kilometres away. As the kingpin led the correspondent to an area inside the field, four members took pre-decided positions on different trees – the watchtowers – to alert others in the event of a raid.
Hidden beneath a pile of straw and dry leaves, the tools were revealed by the kingpin. They were not much — a battery-operated fan, some wood logs, steel strips, a steel pipe and a temporary furnace. The deal was to make a pistol. And, 35-year-old Rahim Khan took just an hour to make a gun out of a heap of metal trash.
Khan quickly cut a steel pipe, retrieved from the steering wheel of a truck, and bored it into a wooden grip. He fashioned a trigger out of a small steel sheet, attached the trigger to a firing pin using a small spring and the pistol was ready to be shipped. Khan spoke like an expert on weapons and showed no qualms in admitting that he was an expert in the business. “We get all the latest updates on the design from our counterparts in UP,” said Khan. He, however, did not elaborate further on his links with the gangs in the neighbouring state.
Asked about the demand and his customers, Khan said the demand for countrymade guns has gone up over the years as “people want to settle scores among themselves”. “Lately, criminals involved in street crime such as snatching and thieves and drug pushers also prefer to have small arms to secure themselves from competition. It also helps them during a chase by the police,” he said.
The next stop was Kot, a village in the Hathin tehsil of Palwal district also known as Meo village as it is part of Mewat. On the outskirts of the village, at least 20 men were engaged in manufacturing .32 bore pistols, which is popular among criminals in Delhi-NCR.
In Bishambhara village of UP’s Mathura district, at least 10 gangs are involved in manufacturing countrymade weapons. Many of them have links with their counterparts in Mewat. Most of them make .315 bore pistols and 12 bore shotguns.
In Hathiya village of UP, at least 20 units are engaged in manufacturing weapons. Some people involved in the business said Hathiya is the hub of wholesale gun dealers, who also supply to smaller operations. They also supply raw material to manufacturers.
Demand and supply
Police officers involved in busting illegal weapons rackets were not able to put a number on how many people are involved in the business but they claimed that it was considerably simple operation that ran on trust and is protected by the principal of omerta — the code of silence.
Nobody deals with strangers. The orders are placed by middlemen trusted by both the makers and the users of the weapons. Neither the buyers ask from where the guns would come nor do manufacturers ask who was buying the guns. It is the middlemen who gets the guns and delivers them.
The men involved in the business said they do not take orders or deliver directly. The business is done through middlemen, or the suppliers, whose place the order and deliver the arms to the buyer. Neither the manufacturers ask middlemen about the deliveries nor about buyer. They don’t sell these weapons to strangers unless they have a word with someone they trust.
Considering the low input costs and easily available raw material, the profits are good. A simple pistol, called Katta, can be made in just ₹500. It is sold for ₹3,000 to ₹5,500. Comparatively, a legal pistol costs ?30,000-?35,000. A homemade .315 bore pistol is sold for ₹10,000 to ₹15,000.
Unlike some legal businesses, where middlemen walk away with most of the profits, the illegal gun making is pretty democratic. A gunmaker in one of the villages, who identified himself with his first name only, Asif, said when the demand is good, a ‘Karigar’ (artisan) makes about ₹25,000- ₹30,000 a month.
The Mewati gunmakers rely on scouts, who have contacts with criminals and gangsters. They also admit to sources inside jails, where they strike deals and convey the orders to the gun makers. The sale is made only after a client has a verbal guarantee from a person known to the maker. There is no record of sale as the manufacturers maintain complete secrecy. Personal guarantee is the only currency besides cash.
LAW IS CATCHING UP
Busting the gangs
Police said at least 20 gangs have been busted in the last one-and-a-half years but admit that most of these criminals are habitual offenders, who return to business soon after they are released.
Nazneen Bhasin, who was the superintendent of police, Nuh district, before being transferred to the Special Task Force (STF), Gurugram Police, said at least 57 people involved in the illegal weapons trade had been arrested during her tenure and hundreds of illegal guns had been seized.
“Unemployment and the lure of easy money drive the youth in Mewat region to take up crime,” Bhasin said.
Bhasin said the district police had regular interactions with their counterparts in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Haryana. But the entry of small illegal arms into the neighbouring areas continues.