The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Civilian twist to new-age arms and the man

Arms there are aplenty and the man is no longer just in army fatigue. With civil society itching to slip a finger into the trigger, the borders are not where all the action is.

Recognising the trigger trend, the 100-year-old Rifle Factory Ishapore (RFI) has decided to shift its sights more towards civil trade and exports, with ministry of home affairs approval. In a bid to further develop a growing market beyond the armed forces — the RFI’s captive buyers for years — the unit in Ishapore, 27 km from the city centre, is re-launching three products this year.

The 5.56 mm INSAS rifle, .30-calibre revolver and .22 revolver will all be aimed at the civilian segment. These can all be picked up along with an arms licence.

“Around 80 per cent of our supplies go to the Indian Army. But after a modernisation drive, we are also trying to diversify into non-defence sectors, like civilian trade and export markets,” D.K. Dutta, director-general ordnance factories, and chairman, ordnance factory board, said on Monday.

According to data available with the board, civilian trade accounted for Rs 500 crore of its Rs 6,400-crore turnover last year, while export earnings totalled Rs 60 crore. A 20 per cent growth is expected in both the segments this year.

Elaborating on the rise in demand for ammunitions from the non-defence category, B.C. Biswas, RFI general manager, said: “We are producing just 100 revolvers of .22 calibre, with extra features, to mark the centenary celebrations, but we have already received over 1,000 applications from civilians.” Besides, booking has been blocked for the next two years’ production of .315 sporting rifles.

INSAS, a soldier rifle, is produced to meet the demand from various paramilitary forces like BSF, CRPF, CISF and police, and also for export. The destinations beyond boundaries for the 5.56 mm INSAS rifles are a “closely-guarded secret”, and all that Dutta would divulge is that they would not reach any country featuring on the “negative” list.

The sporting rifles and revolvers are being lapped up by the mushrooming security agencies manning shops and offices, highrises and hotels.

“The demand for armed guards is increasing in the city, with incidents of crime and extortion on the rise. We have more than a hundred protecting people and property in Calcutta. We don’t directly procure these guns, but instead, employ people with arms licences,” said the regional head of a security agency. Possessing a gun is a big plus when it comes to employability in a private security firm.

“With modernisation, we have created enough capacity in our production processes and we want to utilise it by catering outside the armed forces,” said Dutta, while clarifying that the shift of focus has not been triggered by a supply slump to the armed forces.

Besides the rise in demand from civilian customers, the state governments and other central security agencies, which used to import the guns till the other day, are also placing orders with the board.

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