The Punjab government is in an embarrassing spot following allegations implicating five ruling coalition legislators in a racket involving the issue of fake arms licences.
Police in the neighbouring Haryana unearthed the racket, operating out of
Punjab's border district of Ferozepur, 250 km from the two states' common capital Chandigarh. The exposure has left the National Democratic Alliance government in Punjab, comprising the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party, red in the face.
Preliminary inquiries have revealed that more than 28,000 fake arms licences
were issued between 1997 and 2000. Most of the beneficiaries are said to be
criminals from Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi and Rajasthan, who applied for
the licences under fake identities.
After the Haryana police registered a case in Jhajjar against officials of the
Ferozepur deputy commissioner's office, the Punjab police allegedly started
a cover-up operation to protect the accused legislators.
The Punjab police launched a parallel investigation, allegedly to deny its
counterpart force access to official records.
S R Ladhar, the deputy commissioner of Ferozepur, said he had ordered a
physical verification of all records before action is taken against the accused. But Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has not yet ordered an inquiry into the case.
The Haryana police has sent a notice to G S Sahota, the former additional deputy commissioner of Ferozepur during whose tenure the racket apparently
flourished. Sahota was empowered by the district magistrate to issue arms licences. He is reportedly missing from his residence in Panchkula, Haryana,
and unconfirmed reports said he had flown to the United States to dodge investigators.
Sources in the Haryana police said four employees of the deputy commissioner's office were involved in the racket, issuing fake arms licences for a fee. While the Haryana police have arrested 18 people, including four employees of the deputy commissioner's office, the Punjab police have not initiated any action against the accused yet.
A Haryana police team has been camping in Ferozepur for the last three weeks to collect incriminating records, but their Punjab counterparts are allegedly not extending any support.
Jhaggar Superintendent of Police Mohammed Akil regretted the lack of cooperation from the Punjab force. He said the racket was detected following the arrest of a murder accused carrying a fake arms licence issued from Ferozepur. Following that, a fake licence was recovered from an accused in another murder case, raising suspicion in the Haryana force.
Akil said he had recommended that the matter be investigated by the Central
Bureau of Investigation. He alleged that about 250 files from the Ferozepur deputy commissioner's office had gone missing.
According to police sources, during 1997 about 4,000 fake arms licences were
issued and the number shot up to 9,200 and 9,700 in the subsequent two years. About 3,200 fake licences were granted in 2000. The actual number of fake licences, the sources said, could be much more.
They said an applicant for a fake licence paid Rs 30,000 on an average and
the money was allegedly split between certain legislators and local officials. They expressed surprise that Ferozepur officials issued even those licences that only the state home secretary was empowered to do. They also alleged that some arms dealers were acting as middlemen.
Indo-Asian News Service
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