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Guns on police tables, it’s election time

In a move to bolster security and inspire voter confidence, Jharkhand police are on a stringent arms scrutiny and verification drive to screen which are licensed and which are not ahead of Lok Sabha polls.

The Election Commission of India (ECI), in its 2014 checklist to police officers across India, issued strict guidelines on 11 subjects, including “preventive actions for peaceful, free and fair polls”, with a comprehensive set of dos and don’ts on firearms.

These include “thorough search and seizure of illegal arms”, “indigenous manufacturer of arms and ammunitions”, “regular raids” and “arrest of offenders”, “100 per cent scrutiny of arms licenses and ammunition shops” and “prohibitory orders under 144 CRPC banning the carrying of licensed arms”. Also, issuing new arms license at this period can only be done after detailed consultation with respective screening committees.

The capital district has roughly 6,500 licensed arms holders. Considering the volume in the capital, police issued four dates — March 25-26 and April 2-3 — for licence holders to submit their guns or rifles or any other weapon with relevant documents for verification in respective police stations.

Ranchi district administration’s EDC (establishment deputy collector) Iqbal Alam Ansari said they issued ad directing all arms-licence holders in Ranchi about the move and dates. “The point is that everyone in possession of a firearm must approach a thana with papers. If they fail to do so and are caught later, they will face punitive action,” said Ansari.

Ranchi SSP Prabhat Kumar said: “We will compile the number of weapons recalled, surrendered or confiscated after the drive is over. Deputy commissioner Vinay Kumar Choubey had asked directives to be strictly followed.”

City SP Anup Birthare said who possess or seek arms licences must furnish valid reasons. “If they need it for self-defence, they have to convince us. They also need to give us an undertaking promising zero misuse,” Birthare said, adding they had taken into possession around 40 weapons so far.

Interestingly, Jamshedpur, Dhanbad and Bokaro, among the urban pockets in Jharkhand that are witnessing the similar drive, boast higher figures of firearms surrendered or confiscated.

East Singhbhum SSP Amol V. Homkar said: “Till this evening (Wednesday), we have 683 surrenders or seizures. Roughly, there are some 2,000-3,000 license holders in East Singhbhum.”

On why confiscate or re-verify licences, SSP Homkar said: “Directives are uniform. We are straightaway cancelling licences or seizing arms from those who got theirs from Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir or Nagaland.

If an arms holder is dead and the weapon isn’t submitted or transferred in someone else’s name, it is seized. These apart, guns are seized if the person faces a chargesheet for a serious crime or was accused of intimidation in prior polls,” Homkar said.

In Dhanbad, DSP headquarters Raj Kumar Sinha said the district had 1,464 licenced arms holders and around 275 were seized. Bokaro additional collectorate Sanjay Singh said the number was 2,150 in the district, while 516 had been seized so far.

Jharkhand, which will go to polls on April 10, 17 and 24, has 24,648 polling stations across 18,852 venues in 14 Lok Sabha seats. During 2009 general elections, over 50 per cent booths were tagged “sensitive” and “highly sensitive”.