Firearms are losing their spark in Patna or so it seems from the decline in the number of people seeking arms licences over the past five years.
Till a few years ago, public display of firearms was common on the roads of the state capital. This trend, however, has taken a beating since 2007 (see chart).
A source in the arms magistrate office said: “From 1990 to 2005, the annual number of applications for arms licences was almost 2,000 on an average but after 2006, the number has come down. Earlier, the demand for rifles and carbines was quite high, whereas applicants nowadays seek licences to buy pistols for self-defence.”
Opinions are divided over this dip in arms licence applications. While those in the administration claim that the decline is indicative of improved law and order in the state, those in the Opposition construe it to be an effect of the state government’s “policy” against issuing arms licence.
According to rules, one has to procure an arms licence, issued by the district administration, before purchasing a firearm.
District magistrate (DM) Sanjay Singh said improvement in the law and order in Patna has deterred people from applying for arms licences. Compared to 1,042 applications for arms licence in 2007, only 641 applications were received in 2011. The number of licences issued by the district administration also came down from 188 in 2007 to 15 in 2011.
About the reason behind the decline, Singh said: “Improved law and order in the state could be cited as one of the reasons. It won’t be logical to say that there is a cent per cent feeling of security among the people but their confidence-level has gone up. They also trust the administration and the police more.”
He added: “Members of families, which have a tradition of keeping arms, apply for licences. Persons dealing in huge sums of money want firearms for self-defence.”
Of 5,223 applications received from 2007-2012, arms licences were issued to 711 applicants. “The district administration does not have the authority to reject applications as people have the right to approach us under the Arms Act, 1959, and the Arms Rule, 1962, which contain provisions for acquisition and possession of firearms by individuals and for manufacture, sale, transportation, import and export of firearms and ammunition,” said the DM.
Singh said: “After receiving each application, both the administration and the police conduct proper inquiry. We ensure that the applicant does not face criminal charges. A licence is issued to the applicant only after proper police verification. However, we advise people not to possess firearms because the police and the administration are there to take care of them.”
Offering another logic, the DM said: “Many applicants just want to keep arms as a status symbol.”
Citing reasons for the scramble for firearms during the RJD regime in Bihar, a senior bureaucrat, who has worked closely with both Lalu and Nitish, said: “In people’s perception, there was a sense of insecurity among the citizens (during the RJD regime). Whatever be the statistics for criminal incidents, people were largely feeling insecure on the streets. Even Patna High Court used the term jungle raj to describe the scenario at that time. People had virtually lost faith in the police because of the regular interference of the ruling party leaders. Hence, citizens wanted their own arms for protection. People feel relatively more secure under Nitish’s rule. This appears to have deterred them from applying for arms licences.”
Countering the bureaucrat’s viewpoint, senior RJD leader and Rajya Sabha member Ramkripal Yadav said: “Nitish’s government has decided not to issue arms licences to any individual, which the citizens are aware of. Hence, less number of people apply for arms licences now because they know that even if they apply, the district administration will not issue them as per the government’s instructions.”
But Yadav was candid enough to admit that during Lalu’s rule, the number of applicants was more. “During our regime, we used to issue licences to all those who faced threats to life. It was the duty of the district administration to do so. But Nitish wants people to lose their lives. If someone tells me that law and order in the state capital has improved, then I am sorry to say that many incidents of daylight murders are being reported,” Yadav said.
Admitting the family tradition theory, Raj Kishore Sharma, a Danapur resident, said: “My grandfather had bought this rifle. After his death, it became my father’s proud possession. Though the law and order has improved in the state, I want an arms licence to maintain this legacy.”
Another arms licence applicant, Brajesh Singh, said he wanted to possess a firearm because of business-related work. “My business involves huge cash transactions. Hence, I want to carry a pistol for my security even though the law and order has improved in Patna,” he said.