Following smuggling, phones banned at Ishapore rifle factory; abandoned guns under scanner
The racket, comprising some factory officials, contract labourers and Bihar-based gunrunners, has been operating for almost 10 years during which hundreds of weapons and weapon parts were allegedly smuggled out.kolkata Updated: May 22, 2018 18:27 IST
Two weeks after police busted a gang that had been smuggling weapons out of Rifle Factory Ishapore (RFI) for 10 years, the authorities have started locking away hundreds of old and abandoned weapons and weapon parts left in stores inside the premises.
To stop leakage of information and photography, RFI authorities on Monday even banned use of mobile phones by officers, staff members and contract workers.
Located about 40 km to the north of Kolkata, RFI is the main small arms manufacturer for the army and paramilitary forces. The 12 bore pump action gun, infamous in Kashmir as ‘pellet gun,’ is also made by RFI.
The Special Task Force (STF) of Kolkata Police on Thursday night arrested Ganesh Paswan alias ‘Bhagwanji’ from Barakar in West Burdwan district. This was the eighth arrest since May 7. Paswan is suspected to be part of the group that supplied INSAS and SLR rifles to Maoists after these were smuggled out of the factory on a truck that was officially hired to carry scrap metal and garbage.
The racket, comprising some factory officials, contract labourers and Bihar-based gunrunners, has been operating for almost 10 years during which hundreds of weapons and weapon parts were allegedly smuggled out. “It is very difficult to draw an estimate. All I can say is the quantity was huge,” a senior STF officer, who did not wish to be named, said.
RFI authorities have started scanning old storerooms since a sub-machine gun and six .38 caliber Webley and Scott revolvers were seized from some key players arrested by STF on May 7.
Last week, as many as 900 finished and semi-assembled sub-machine guns (commonly known as the Sten gun) from the WW2 and 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War era were retrieved along with a few hundred Webley revolvers in assembled or semi-assembled condition. “The cache, big enough to fuel a small war, was shifted to other storage rooms that were later sealed,” said an RFI official who did not want to be named.
On Monday, RFI officials were asked to count and mark all finished and semi-finished weapons and weapon parts left in the three storage rooms in the building from where the racket has been stealing all these years. Skilled gunsmiths in Bihar had been using the parts to assemble new weapons or adding parts to semi-assembled weapons to make these operational, STF has found.
RFI has banned contract labourers from leaving the premises during lunch hour and frisking while entering and leaving the factory has become more stringent. Security personnel have intensified patrolling.
On Monday, use of mobile phones was banned too. The restriction will be applicable to Group A and B officers as well. However, RFI general manager may allow relaxation “purely based on functional requirement” provided head of the unit seeking exemption give it in writing that there would be no misuse, said the order.
RFI authorities have officially maintained silence on this issue ever since the racket was first detected in September 2017.
Ganesh Paswan, a resident of Gazipur region in Bihar, was remanded in police custody on Friday. “He is part of the same gang that was involved in smuggling of weapons,” said Muralidhar Sharma, deputy commissioner of police, STF. “It is being probed whether weapons were sold to criminal gangs as well,” added Sharma.
On May 7, STF arrested two junior works managers of RFI, Sukhada Murmu and Sushanta Basu, two contract labourers of the factory, Umesh Rai and Kartick Shaw and two Bihar-based gunrunners, Ajay Pundit and Jaishankar Pandey.
Acting on their statements a police team went to Bihar and arrested Rajesh Kumar alias Munna from Nalanda on May 13. His interrogation led to the arrest of Paswan on Thursday night.
This is STF’s second operation. In September 2017, Sambhu Bhattacharjee, a junior works manager of RFI, was arrested for allegedly smuggling out parts of SLR and INSAS rifles. A contract worker was also arrested with a 9mm pistol assembled with parts smuggled out of the factory.
Murmu, who was arrested on May 7, earlier worked with Bhattacharjee in the stores department. He was promoted to the rank of junior works manager a few months ago. He was in charge of disposal of both garbage and scrap material.
RFI is India’s oldest defence production establishment. It is one of the 41 factories run by the Ordnance Factory Board which functions under the Ministry of Defence.