Munger, Bihar: Gunsmiths at the only licensed arms manufacturing facility in Munger town, 130km away from Bihar’s capital Patna, are known around the country for their extraordinary workmanship. But the so-called Functional Industrial Estate here hides an ugly truth: Since 1947, it hasn’t hired Muslims.
This is strange because Muslims were in the business of making arms here for at least five centuries before independence. The reasons for this discrimination are not clear, nor is the discrimination explicit, but it exists.
“It is a Hindu factory. Nothing is on record...it is understood,” said T.P. Sharma, managing director, Green and Co., one of the 37 units operating in the estate’s premises, which makes bridge-loading guns, including single-barrel and double-barrel ones.
Burgeoning trade: Country-made pistols seized by Munger police during raids on illegal gun factories. Utpal Bhaskar / Mint
The Munger factory is really a collection of units, among the 100-odd arms factories created after independence by bringing together arms-making units. Similar factories exist in Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Assam.
Back then, the owners of individual units were issued licences allowing them to make arms within these estates. The last time such non-transferable licences were issued was in 1957, and the units cannot manufacture more than their allotted quota. The result: those with valid arms licences invariably have to wait a long time to buy a gun. Then, there’s the hassle of getting a gun licence.
These factors, clubbed with the availability of trained manpower here, could explain why Munger has become a hub for illegal arms manufacture.
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Sure enough, the Munger arms factory has seen a decline in demand for licensed arms and it has seen significant attrition in its gunsmith population—some of these gunsmiths, people here say, have joined illegal arms-making units that supply arms to criminals and insurgents.
Elections mean boom-time for the makers of illegal arms. These illegal gun factories supply guns to such groups in states such as West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, said a senior police officer in the district, who didn’t want to be identified. The Maoists have a growing presence in Munger. The town is part of the Munger Lok Sabha constituency, which goes to polls on 30 April. And according to the district administration, around 10% of the 535 polling stations in the constituency face the threat of disruption by Maoists.
In the Munger Lok Sabha seat, the state president of the Janata Dal (United) that governs Bihar, Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan Singh, is pitted against Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Ram Badan Rai. Of the 1.5 million voters in the constituency, Dalits, with 300,000, form a major chunk of the electorate. They are followed by Kurmis and Dhanus, both so-called other backward classes, or OBCs, which together have 210,000 voters. The Bhumihars and Vaishyas, essentially traders, have 200,000 votes each; the Yadavs, a dominant community in many parts of the state, account for 180,000 voters; Muslims, 125,000 voters; and Rajputs, 130,000.
These numbers are important because victory in the election here is “purely dependent upon who manages these caste equations well”, said a top district administration official who didn’t want to be identified.
The district administration is aware that elections here and elsewhere in the country mean big business for the makers of illegal guns. Since November last year, when five key states went to the polls, the police here have raided several illegal arms factories and arrested 1,915 people, the police officer quoted in the first instance said.
The gunsmiths of Munger
“Munger traditionally has (had) very good gunsmiths. India has around four major places for illegal gun manufacturing, including Kanpur. But Munger is at the top for the quality of its arms... They can manufacture a duplicate Webley and Scott revolver and even a seasoned eye would not be able to spot the difference, be it in the handling of the weapon or its finish,” said the district administration official.
The town is also close to Jamalpur, an old railway town which, with its numerous workshops, provides a rich supply of raw materials required for making guns, such as high tensile steel.
At the Munger arms factory, the number of gunsmiths has fallen from around 600 four years ago to 300. But Sharma of Green and Co. rules out the involvement of any former employee of the licensed gun factory in the illegal arms manufacturing trade.
Interestingly, with Muslims being kept away from the estate, most illegal arms-making units are located in areas thickly populated by the minority community, such as Hazratganj, which is 2km from Munger, the police officer said.
“Sixty percent of the illegal factories raided were in areas (where Muslims are a majority). (But) it might be a coincidence. I think it is more because of demography, as there is a lot of Muslim population in Munger.”
The guns produced by these factories are popular and cheap. Countrymade small arms cost around Rs400 each in the district. Good automatic small arms cost upwards of Rs1 lakh each, though a gun of the same quality can be provided by these basement factories at prices as low as Rs20,000 .
“Even the Maoists are their clients. These kattas (country-made small arms), the cheapest in the country, can fire two or three kinds of bullets bearing different bores. Interestingly, unlike kattas manufactured in other parts of the country, the barrels do not burst despite repeated use,” the police officer added.
The rise in illegal trade has come even as demand from licensed gun factories such as the one at Munger has fallen. “Business has dried up as no gun licences are issued these days. Business has gone. We register a 10% loss on an annual basis. In our better days, the estate registered a turnover of Rs2 crore per annum and firms used to make a 20% profit,” said Manmohan Prasad Sharma, secretary of the Gun Manufacturers Association, which represents firms operating in the Munger facility.
A gun requires around 70 components and 22 workers to make it. The entire process from the placement of an order to the delivery of a licensed weapon takes around six months as the barrels are sent to the Indian Ordnance Factory (IOF) at Ichapore in West Bengal for testing. The assembling begins only after the barrels are cleared by this factory. Interestingly, recent raids in Munger have resulted in the seizure of large quantities of magazine springs used for automatic weapon manufacturing that were manufactured by IOF.
“These springs have a specific elasticity which puts the bullet automatically in the firing chamber. They are the most important component for automatic weapons. The IOF alone does such level of high quality manufacturing. These springs have somehow found their way to Munger’s illegal arms manufacturing business,” said a second senior police officer in the district who too didn’t want to be identified.
Commenting on the seizure of springs manufactured by IOF from illegal units, the additional director general of police (headquarters) in Bihar, Neelmani, who uses only one name, told Mint, “There may be some collusion (between employees of IOF and the makers of illegal arms). However, this has to be probed.”
“A lot of people in Munger know arms manufacturing due to its history.”
In a related development, M Sunil Kumar Naik, the superintendent of police in Munger, said he wants the licences of 68 licensed gun-shops in the district revoked because he claims they function as a front for illegal arms trade.
“We will be sending this proposal shortly and the district magistrate has the right to cancel the licences. Munger has got perhaps the maximum concentration of licensed gun-shops of 75 in the area of this size,” added Naik.
Heightened police activity means that the makers of illegal arms are lying low for the time being. The owners of two such units who had earlier agreed to meet this reporter at their factories did a volte-face and even refused to speak over the phone.
“We have recovered all sorts of weapons (from the raids) except an AK47,” said the second police officer, initially in jest. Given the expertise of the gunsmiths of Munger, “it is not far-fetched.”