Every time, the Olympics are held anywhere in the world, we wait eagerly for medals for India. It is the shooting sports that gives us hope every time wherein we get many medals for sure. Have we given a thought to it as to why it happens so. The answer lies in the fact the we Indians possess inherent talent for shooting. In our mythological books also, we find the reference of bow and arrow during sports ,hunting or war. Of course, the term ‘arms’ has a very wide connotation and, accordingly, it has been defined vividly in the Indian Arms Act as a weapon of offence or defence saving certain exceptions.
Arms play a very important role in the lives of people and the society. Whether National security from external aggression or maintenance of law & order in society and crime control, Arms and regulation of Arms has tremendous importance. Different counties of the world have different regulations in this behalf much to do with their social and historical realities. On one hand, we find USA which provides a constitutional right (2nd Amendment) to it’s citizens to possess arms, on the other hand, in most of other counties access to arms to general public varies from being restrictive to very restrictive. The very restrictive countries include Japan, Australia, New Zealand, et al whereas restrictive counties include UK, Germany, India, et al. The people in USA believe that possession of arms freely there, is good for the society and their country in terms of enjoying freedom of self defence by the citizens in their day to day life. It empowers the society to save themselves from frequent crimes and law & order problems wherein the citizens participate along with the law enforcement agencies in prevention of crime and law & order problems. Of course, there is always some risks attached to misuse of arms that we have seen from time to time in USA on account of largely mental health problems in some specific cases. As a result, there has always been a talk of gun control in there; and, some states have been coming up with stricter regulations in this behalf. But, being a vast county, USA has been working with largely a Control free regime. Other developed countries being small have trust in effective policing for crime control and maintenance of law & order problem and ,accordingly, the citizens have very limited access to arms.
Coming to India , our own country, there has been a practice of keeping some arm by general public in the family even if a simple lathi since ancient times, though, spear, swords, mace , etc have also been kept at home by the people. The most important arms, the firearms ,came into being during the medieval period of India but was possessed by the law enforcement agencies and not with the general public. The British came up with the Arms Act with a view to not allow Indians to possess arms/Firearms to prevent any revolt from the local Indians. After attaining independence , the new government of Indians tried to remove the extremely restrictive regime to a more flexible regime in terms of the Arms Act 1959 and the Arms Rules 1962.There were some amendments brought about from time to time.
Limited manufacturing was allowed in the private sector by allowing manufacturing of Single Barrel Breach Loading (SBBL) guns and the double barrel breach loading (DBBL) guns. However, manufacturing of Prohibited Bore (PB) guns and Non Prohibited (NPB) guns along with heavy and more sophisticated Arms remained in the hands of Government through Ordinance Factory Board’s (OFB). The import of sophisticated weapons required by the Armed forces and Police and interested public also continued though at huge cost every time.
With the liberalisation of the economy in 1991, there has been demand from the private sector to allow manufacturing of Arms utilising their capacity. The shooters’ lobby as sportspersons had also been demanding more liberalisation in terms of numbers of arms and ammunitions that they can possess for their professional requirements .The general public also has been asking for liberal regime for possession of Arms for their safety of their lives and their property in view of rising crime and law & order problems. The record keeping and tracing/tracking of arms has also been a major concern for the governments. The issue of illicit arms and process of getting arms licenses was also under severe criticism. The demand for simple arms (SBBL/DBBl/Pistol/Revolver) has also been pressed from the fast growing Private security agencies working under PSARA (Private Security Agencies Regulation Act) who now employ around 10 million young people.
The Arms Rules 2016 that came into force addresses most of the issues raised above. Firstly,,it allowed manufacturing in the Private sector for all kinds of arms(small or big) after getting a licence in this behalf-a big step forward for realisation of ‘Make in India’ which has the potential to cater to the needs of Armed force, police, private security agencies and also the demand from the general public who have been provided with a more liberal regime with required criteria from the applicants and a fixed timeline prescribed for the police and the licensing authorities. The database of the Arms licences has been centrally maintained through NDAL (National Data Base of Arms licences) access to which has been provided to government authorities at district/state/central level. It will facilitate monitoring of the possession of Arms. Along with this, the Amendment carried out in the Arms Act has provided longer tenure (5 years in place of earlier 3 years).The punishment in respect of illicit arms has been enhanced as a deterrent measure. The shooters as sport persons would be happy to get most of their issues addressed which will, undoubtedly, give a big boost to this sport. The new regimes has created the possibility of establishment of more Rifle clubs in the states/UT’s providing more professional avenue for shooting practice to government and non government agencies and people.
It is also believed that presence of more licensed simple arms to general people and even private security agencies guards will be in the interest of better maintenance of law & order as also crime control in a vast country like ours .It would also work as aid to the police machinery which find themselves overburdened with ever increasing law & order issues including rising crime and more and more litigations clogging the courts .The Private securities agencies can help local police by timely informing them (through email/phone calls) about prevention and detection of crime. In times to come, the Private security agencies can work as partner with the police bringing about much needed PPP (Public private partnership) in a complex and diverse country like India. It is noteworthy that such Private agencies are playing a major role in the advance countries in the field of Internal security of the country including domain like law & order, criminal investigation , intelligence gathering and forensic science laboratories. It is high time that we also understand their role and give them respectable and viable space to operate.
All in all, the Arms Rule 2016 is a major step in the direction of Arms Reforms in India in line with the changing landscape in the field of internal security of the country. However, there are still many miles to be covered in this direction. It would be in fitness of things if the arms licensing process could be made online and mostly faceless to mitigate complaints of corruption and inefficiency in the government offices. The arms licenses could be in the form of plastic cards or could be integrated with other cards, viz, PAN/Driving license/Passport/Aadhar card, etc.
Author: Bhagwan Shankar, IAS (Retd), Formerly Addl. Chief Secretary to Govt. of Sikkim, Distinguished fellow, Delhi School of Public Policy & Governance, Advisor, Central Association of Private Security Industry