Punjab in ‘line of fire’ with licensed weapons

March 20th, 2009 - 12:23 pm ICT by IANS  

By Jaideep Sarin
Chandigarh, March 20 (IANS) Nearly 9,000 licences for firearms have been issued in Punjab in the past six months and this is now giving sleepless nights to the state’s election commission (SEC) in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls.

State Chief Electoral Officer Kusumjit Sidhu has directed district authorities and police heads to ensure that all licensed weapons in their respective areas are duly deposited with police stations.

“But what we are worried about is that against these 9,000 licensed weapons, hundreds of illegal ones must have been amassed by vested interests. Even with the licensed weapons, we are hoping that the owners will deposit them well in time before the elections. We do not want the parliamentary election in Punjab to be a bloody one,” a senior Punjab police officer told IANS here.

The SEC is closely monitoring the progress of the gigantic exercise to make individuals deposit their licensed firearms ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

Given Punjab’s known fascination for weapons and its past chapter of Sikh militancy, the SEC’s concern comes as no surprise. The state has 13 Lok Sabha constituencies that go to the polls May 7 and 13.

“The SEC is particularly concerned about the large number of firearms in the possession of voters in the border districts, which also have the ’sensitive’ constituencies,” an election official said here.

In the border districts of Tarn Taran and Ferozepur, nearly 2,200 people have acquired new gun licences in the last six months. Over 1,100 licences were issued in Tarn Taran district alone, followed by about 600 each in Gurdaspur and Amritsar districts in the last six months.

In fact, the Majha belt, comprising the border districts of Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Tarn Taran, alone account for nearly 20,000 licensed weapons. The total number of licensed weapons in the state could be nearly 100,000, police officials here said.

Gurpreet Kaur Deo, the border range deputy inspector general of police, hopes that all licensed gun holders will deposit their weapons with the respective police stations.

“Police officers are being handed over lists of licensed weapon-holders in their areas. The officers will be held responsible for the recovery of weapons till elections are over,” a police officer in Amritsar said.

Punjab Police are also trying to track nearly 2,500 other weapons issued to village defence committees in rural areas during the heydays of Sikh militancy in the state (1981-1995) for counter-terrorism operations. Most of these were not recovered by police even after peace was restored in the state nearly 15 years ago.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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