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Illegal Arms Licensing Case: CBI Raids Multiple Locations in Jammu and Kashmir

Residences of senior public servants were among 40 locations that were searched by the investigating agency.

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Jammu: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided around 40 locations in Jammu and Kashmir in connection with the sensational arms license racket case, including the residences of current and former public servants and nearly 20 gun houses.

Raids were conducted in Jammu, Srinagar, Udhampur, Rajouri, Anantnag, Baramulla and Delhi. Sources said the CBI raided the shop of Bhargav arms in Shiv Market; Dashmesh gun house in Miran Sahib, Om Parkash gun house in Paloura, Avatar gun house in Nowabad and other locations.

The case pertains to the irregularities found in the issuance of gun licenses in the erstwhile states by various deputy commissioners. Thousands of licenses were issued to non-entitled persons in the erstwhile J&K state between 2012 and 2016, according to the agency.

Senior J&K IAS officer Shahid Iqbal Choudhary was the district magistrate of at least three districts – Kathua, Reasi, and Udhampur – during the period now under investigation and as such, his residences in both Srinagar and Jammu were also raided.

Choudhary is currently secretary (tribal affairs) and CEO of Mission Youth, J&K. He was the deputy commissioner of Srinagar when J&K’s special status was revoked. The raid at Shahid Chowdhary’s house in Srinagar and in Jammu took nearly four hours, during which no incriminating document was found.

“During the search, no incriminating documents were found related to the case and no other documents/articles were taken into possession,” read the search list of CBI, a copy of which is in The Wire‘s possession.

A CBI official said, “Searches are being conducted in an ongoing investigation into the fake arms license racket.”

Shahid Chowdhary in a tweet said that the licenses issued in the three districts under his tenure have been the lowest by any DM in any district.

“Out of the 4.49 lakh arms licenses issued in Jammu and Kashmir between 2012 and 2016, only 56,000 have been issued from the three districts of Reasi, Kathua and Udhampur. This is not disproportionate in the case of three districts,” Chowdhary said.

“And among these 56,000 licenses between 2012 and 2016, only 1,720 licenses have been issued during my tenure,” he added.

He also said, “I have learnt that the investigators may have found some procedural errors in a few cases – not more than 15-20 – out of all licenses issued under my tenure in Udhampur district. Oversight or procedural indiscretion cannot be completely ruled out as this is a human intervention process which passes through several clerical stages.”

Nearly eight former deputy commissioners are being investigated in the case, while the CBI had also arrested two officials in the alleged scam – IAS officer Rajiv Ranjan and Itrat Hussain Rafiqui – last year.

Regarding Saturday’s raids, CBI officials said in a statement that during investigation and scrutiny of documents, the role of certain gun dealers was found.

The statement mentioned that these gun dealers were “conniving” with public servants i.e. the then DM and additional district magistrate, who had allegedly issued “illegal arms licenses to ineligible persons”.

It also alleged some persons who received the license were not residents of the place where it was issued.

Background

The case dates back to 2017, when a routine investigation by the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the Rajasthan Police found an alleged nexus between some criminals in Rajasthan and arms dealers in Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir. A bulk of the allegedly forged arms licenses were issued in different districts of the two states. On the basis of inputs from the ATS, the Jammu and Kashmir home department referred a case of alleged large-scale issuance of forged arms licenses for investigation to the Vigilance Organisation of Jammu and Kashmir (now the Anti-Corruption Bureau). Subsequently, FIR 18 of 2018 was registered.

The case was handed over to the CBI by former governor N.N. Vohra, after evidence pointed to the involvement of J&K government officers in the scam. The CBI had registered two cases on the request of the J&K government and a notification from the Government of India, and took over the investigation.

It was alleged that more than 2.78 lakh arms licenses were issued to non-entitled persons in the erstwhile J&K state between 2012 and 2016. The CBI also collected documents pertaining to the issuance of said armed licenses, spread over 22 districts of J&K.

After J&K was bifurcated into two Union Territories, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in December 2019 raided 13 locations, including the residences and offices of several serving and retired officers in multiple cities and towns of Jammu and Kashmir, Chandigarh, Haryana, Delhi. The CBI searched or raided the premises of senior IAS officers Yasha Mudgal and Kumar Rajeev Ranjan while investigating the case, CBI officials had said.

“It was alleged that the former public servants in this conspiracy of issuance of licenses to non-residents of Jammu and Kashmir in violation of rules, allegedly received gratification,” the then Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) spokesperson Nitin Wakankar had said.

That the investigation spanned only 2012 to 2016 garnered surprise, as even the Rajasthan ATS had mentioned irregularities in a number of other districts dating back several years.

The CBI again searched or raided offices and residences of several officers in multiple cities/towns and arrested some officials, including a serving IAS officer, in February 2020. The public servants allegedly received bribes in lieu of issuing licenses to non-residents of Jammu and Kashmir in violation of rules, said a CBI official.

In March 2020, the UT administration ordered the suspension of IAS officer Kumar Rajeev Ranjan, with effect from February 29, the day he was detained by the Central investigating agency. He was posted as additional chief executive officer, Metropolitan Regulatory Authority, Jammu, holding additional charge as vice-chairman, Jammu Development Authority (JDA) at the time.

Last year, two officials, including IAS officer Rajiv Ranjan, were arrested by the CBI for the alleged illegal issuance of gun licenses during their tenures as deputy commissioners.