The Central Bureau of Investigation on Saturday conducted searches at multiple locations in Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi, including at the house of former Srinagar Deputy Commissioner Shahid Iqbal Choudhary, in connection with an arms licence racket, reported The Indian Express. The case pertains to issuing fraudulent gun licences by state officials for money between 2012 and 2016.
The CBI raided the premises of former public servants and around 20 gun houses spread across various areas, including Jammu, Srinagar, Udhampur, Rajouri, Anantnag, Baramulla and also Delhi, according to the central agency. Gun houses are ammunition stores.
In a statement, the CBI claimed that over 2.78 lakh arms licences were given to people who were not residents of the areas where the licences were issued.
“During investigation and scrutiny of documents, the role of certain gun dealers was found who in connivance with the public servants i.e. the then DM [district magistrate] and ADM [additional district magistrate] of concerned District had allegedly issued such illegal arms licenses to the ineligible persons,” the statement added.
The case is related to a gun licence racket unearthed by Rajasthan Police in 2017 after they found people – most of them with criminal records – possessing licensed weapons issued by authorities in Jammu and Kashmir, reported NDTV.
As many as 1,32,321 of the 1,43,013 licences in Jammu and Kashmir’s Doda town, Ramban and Udhampur districts were issued to those residing outside Rajasthan, according to the state’s anti-terrorism squad officials. Only 10% of the 4,29,301 licences were issued to Rajasthan residents in the state.
In 2018, NN Vora, who was then the governor of Jammu and Kashmir, had handed over the investigation in the case to the CBI. The state police were conducting the inquiry into the case earlier. On July 12, 2018, the governor had revoked individual gun licences issued between January 2017 and February 2018, citing the unearthing of the racket.
“During further investigation conducted by the CBI, the alleged role of Sh. Itrit Hussain Rafiqi and Sh. Rajiv Ranjan, IAS [Indian Administrative Service], both posted then District Magistrates Kupwara, J&K has surfaced during their tenure as District Magistrates, Kupwara, J&K from the year 2013 to 2015 and from 2015 to 2016, respectively, ” a CBI had said then.
In 2019, the central agency had conducted searches at the premises of both these officers in connection with the case. They were arrested in March 2020.
In July last year, the central agency conducted searches at 11 locations, including private gun houses, in Jammu, Srinagar and Udhampur. The CBI had then claimed to have recovered incriminating documents and electronic evidence that showed a nexus between gun house owners and bureaucrats for issuing the licences.
A sample survey of licences issued from Kupwara in north Kashmir showed that the district authorities had not maintained any files or registers, according to The Indian Express. The survey showed that many of the arms licences may have been issued to outsiders on the basis of forged documents.
Meanwhile, Choudhary, whose residence was raided on Saturday, claimed that the CBI found nothing incriminating in its investigation. “Media friends may note the probe covers 4 years across all districts,” he said, providing details of the case. “I am fully answerable to CBI for my tenure.”
He said that the period of the case covers his tenure in three districts and claimed that licences issued during his tenure were the lowest. “Out of 4.49 lakh arms licences issued in J&K between 2012 and 2016, only 56,000 (12.4%) issued in 3 districts of Reasi, Kathua and Udhampur where I served as DM [district magistrate],” Choudhary said. “Of the 56K [56,000] licences issued in 3 districts – Reasi, Kathua and Udhampur – between 2012 and 2016, only 1,720 were issued in my tenure – 3% of all licences issued in three districts in 4 years or during the period under investigation and 0.38% of all such licences issued in J&K.”
He, however, admitted there might be some procedural irregularities, saying that there are several clerical stages to issuing licences. “Of the 36,000 licences issued in Udhampur between 2012 and 16, only 1,500-odd (less than 4%) issued under my tenure,” Choudhary claimed. “I’ve complied with agency queries, committed to do so in future also.”
Choudhary is currently serving as secretary of the Tribal Affairs Department of Jammu and Kashmir as well as the Chief Executive Officer of the Mission Youth programme of the Union Territory.