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Firearms in India

Last Updated 6 October 2004

OVERVIEW (1)

Population: 1,065,070,607 (July 2004 EST.)

Economy:
GDP                           : purchasing power parity - $3.033 trillion (2003 EST.)
GDP - real growth rate : 8.3% (2004 est.)
GDP - per capita          : purchasing power parity - $2,900 (2003 EST.)

Governance: Federal republic

FIREARMS OWNERSHIP

Percentage of Households with Firearms: Not known

Estimated Number of Firearms: There are an estimated 40 million firearms in India, the majority of which are illicit. India accounts for the majority of small arms in South Asia, which has an estimated 75 million firearms (63 million of which are in civilian possession). (3)

Types of Legal Firearms:

Relevant law - Arms Act, 1959 & Arms Rules, 1962.

Prohibited Bores

  • Prohibited Bores - Arms Rules, 1962 - Schedule I - categories I(b) and I(c).
  • MHA - sole licensing authority - w.e.f 8.8.1987.
  • Applications to be made through the local licensing authorities/State/U.T. Governments.

Non Prohibited Bores

  • Non-Prohibited Bores - Arms Rules, 1962 - Schedule I - category III.
  • District Magistrate/Collector - licensing authority - license for the whole State or part thereof.
  • All India or part license - granted by the State/U.T. Governments only.
  • Renewing authority - DM/Collector.
  • Applications in Form-A - available in the Collectorates/DM's offices.

Purposes of Lawful Firearms Ownership: Target-shooting, protection of person or property and private security. Firearm ownership is not permitted for the purposes of collecting or for hunting of game for sport or food. (2)

FIREARM DEATH, INJURY AND CRIME

In India, the rampant proliferation of illicit small arms combined with poor policing, has eroded human rights, weakened democratic institutions and polarized ethnic, religious, economic and political differences between citizens. (6) (7)

It is difficult for enforcement agencies to keep a check on violence when during elections private armies of politicians carrying illicit firearms roam at large (6). The problem of intimidation by such criminal elements is compounded by the fact that legal firearm ownership is so limited - making it impossible for a private citizen to effectively defend himself/ herself.

Suicides and Firearm Accidents in India, 1990 - 1994 (2)

 

1990

1991

1992

1993

1994

Total Suicides

73,911

78,450

80,149

84,244

89,195

Firearm Suicides

535

571

561

712

586

Firearm Suicide Rate

       

0.06

Firearm Accidents

2,731

3,169

3,341

1,980

2,375

Firearm Accident Rate

       

0.26

Source: The UN, Study on International Firearm Regulation, 1999 update.
Note: India reported its homicide statistics as "not reasonably available".

TYPES/SOURCES OF FIREARMS WHICH ARE MISUSED

India is part of a region that is saturated with small arms; it would be almost impossible to calculate the quantities and types of weapons in India. (7) The primary source for the proliferation of weapons in South Asia was the first Afghanistan war. The war in Cambodia was also a major source of supply. Most of these weapons were absorbed by Pakistan and India. Supply and demand are both fuelled by the continuing conflicts in the region; for example, the contested area of Kashmir between India and Pakistan, the US-led war in Afghanistan and the civil strife in Sri Lanka. (3) Further sources of illicit small arms include the illegal arms production "cottage industry" in India, leaks and thefts from State stocks, and problems in the licensing process. "Cottage industry" pistols, known as "kattas", are produced using a variety of ordinary items, including plumbing pipes and jeep steering columns. (6)

Illegal Trade: Despite India's stringent regulation of arms transfers, exports and imports, India still faces the problem of weapons which are smuggled into the country by various anti-national groups. As far as cross-border smuggling of SALW is concerned, the seizures, though not by any means a true measure of the real extent of illicit SALW trafficking, assist the authorities in a statistical assessment of the real dimension of the problem. For example, in Jammu and Kashmir and the north-eastern areas alone, the security forces have, since 1990, seized approximately 39,000 weapons of all types. The markings and types of weapons confiscated clearly indicate that these are brought into India through illicit channels from outside the country. A small amount of crude "country-made" weapons are also found to be produced clandestinely in India. (4)

DOMESTIC FIREARM LEGISLATION (2)

India's domestic policy on small arms and light weapons is regulated under the Arms Act (1959) and Arms Rules (1962). Due to the gravity of the problem of the proliferation of illicit SALW (Small Arms Light Weapons) and their misuse in terrorist activities, India has, since 1987, withdrawn substantially the license issuing powers of State and District authorities - who may not, now, issue licenses for prohibited bore weapons. Since 1987, their powers have been limited to issuing licences for non-prohibited bore weapons and these licenses are valid for a limited geographical area. Licenses for possession of prohibited bore weapons may only be issued, under special conditions, by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. (4)

Licensing Requirements: All firearm owners must be licensed. Applicants must provide information regarding:

  • their date of birth;
  • the availability of a safe place to store the firearm and ammunition;
  • the purpose for which they require a firearm;
  • any previous criminal record or prohibition to possess a firearm. However, if the report of the police officer is not sent within the prescribed time limit (3 months), the licensing authority may grant the licence. (2)

The applicant must present photographic identification and pay the prescribed fee for that firearm. (2) Under the existing law, all civilians are required to get their weapon /s inspected once a year by a competent authority - this is also recorded in the licence. (4)

The licensing authority may also refuse the licence for which he will record the reasons. The licensing authority may refuse to grant the licence if the applicant:

  • is of unsound mind;
  • is below the age of 16;
  • is deemed by the licensing authority to be a threat to the security of the public peace;
  • has been sentenced on conviction of any offence involving violence to imprisonment for any term at any time during a period of 5 years after the expiration of the sentence;
  • has been ordered to execute a bond for keeping the peace or for good behaviour at any time during the term of the bond. (2) (6)

The licensing authorities maintain list of firearm owners and the firearms held by them. No centralised database is maintained about firearm ownership and the identification of firearm. Every police station maintains a register of the licence holders in its jurisdiction, with the name of the licensee, description of weapon and its purpose. This list is updated from time to time. The licences are renewed after the prescribed period mentioned in the license or 3 years, whichever is earlier. Any police officer or other officer specially empowered on this behalf by the Central Government can demand the production of licence from the person carrying firearms or ammunition. The licensee is required to inform the licensing authorities of any change of place of residence. (2)

Registration Requirements: All small arms manufactured in India are uniquely marked by stamping to indicate the registration number, manufacturer/factory of origin and the year of manufacture on one or more of the critical components of a small arm - the body, the breech block and the barrel - during the final stages of production. This applies to arms that are produced for private/personal use and those which are used by armed forces, police or paramilitary forces. Allotment of these registration numbers for the armed forces/police and para-military forces is done centrally and a record is maintained of these registration numbers along with the indent. This provides for a double check on the records. A record of each and every weapon manufactured by the factory is kept along with the information on the concerned dealer. Arms which do not bear specified identification marks may not be sold or transferred. Further, any person found in possession of a weapon without identification marks would be presumed to have removed/obliterated the marks unless proven otherwise. (4)

Training Requirements: No training certification is required. However, some state governments do require such a certificate from professional bodies. (2)

Storage Requirements: The firearm must be stored in the safe place described by the owner in his or her licence application. There is no regulation regarding safety in domestic custody by the owner except the initial assurance of availability of safe place to keep arms in his application for grant of licence. (2)

Prohibited Firearms:

Penalties: Penalties for violations of firearm laws include:

  • Imprisonment varying from six months to life with or without fine.
  • Minimum imprisonment with a fine (prescribed in most of the cases of contraventions).
  • The death penalty (prescribed when someone has used prohibited firearms and prohibited ammunition or has contravened licensing conditions in any act leading to death). (2)

For the following infractions, punishment is the payment of a fine in addition to imprisonment for no less than three years and no more than seven years:

  • manufacturing, selling, transferring, converting, repairing, testing or possessing any arms or ammunition contravened by the Arms Act ;
  • shortens the barrel of a firearm or converts an imitation firearm into a firearm that contravenes the Arms Act ;
  • brings into, or takes out of, India, any arms or ammunition of any class or description in contravention of the Act . (6)

MANUFACTURE, IMPORT AND EXPORT

Manufacture: India manufactures firearms, component parts and ammunition for domestic civilian markets and not for foreign civilian markets. (2) The manufacture and production of SALW in India is fully controlled by Government of India. Small arms for armed forces/police as well as for civilian use are primarily manufactured by Indian Ordnance Factories controlled by the Ministry of Defence. (4)

The private sector is primarily engaged in the manufacture of single and double-barrel (shot)guns and air rifles/pistols. Even after the liberalisation of the Indian economy and the removal of the licensing regime for major industries, the manufacture of arms like revolvers, pistols and rifled weapons (and their associated ammunition) has not been allowed in the private sector by the Government of India. (4)

The policy for manufacture of arms and ammunition in the private sector is based on the Industry Policy Resolution (1956). Private sector manufacturers of firearms are required by law to get every manufactured firearm stamped to show:

  • the maker's name and registered trademark;
  • the serial number of the weapon as entered in his register;
  • the year of stamping; and
  • and proof-mark. (4)

All ordnance factories maintain detailed records of small arms manufactured by them. Private firms and persons authorised to manufacture firearms against licences issued under the Arms Rules of 1962 are required to maintain a Gun Manufacturing Register which records information, including serial numbers and date, month and year of manufacture. They are also required to maintain a Register of Rectification in which the Serial Numbers stamped on guns which are not passed by the Proof House on first submission are to be entered with a cross reference to the Gun Manufacturing Register. A designated Inspecting Officer inspects these registers regularly. A record of arms sold in the civilian market (non-prohibited bore) is also required to be kept by each arms dealer under Section 26 of the Arms Rules (1962) in a Sale and Transfer Register. These records are regularly checked by the concerned state/district authorities. (4)

Import and Export: India imports ammunition, but not firearms or component parts, for its domestic civilian markets. (2) Approximately $21.7 million (US) worth of weapons were imported in 2000. The country's main supplier of legal arms is Russia, followed by Austria, the United Kingdom, Slovakia and Italy. There are also reports of major contracts with Israel and Bulgaria. (5)

Imports are, as a rule, restricted to renowned shooters and rifle clubs for their own use on the recommendation of the concerned Government Department. If an imported firearm kept for sale by a dealer does not bear the manufacturer's name, the concerned importer is required to engrave appropriate identification marks (identifying the importer), as allotted by the Government under these provisions. (4)

India exports firearms, but not component parts or ammunition, to foreign civilian markets. (2) The country further prohibits the export of:

  • weapons falling within the definition of "antiquity" under the Antiquities (Export Control) Act (31 of 1947);
  • weapons of "current and popular bore";
  • weapons of current and popular bores for which ammunition is available in the country; and
  • automatic weapons and weapons which are in use by the police or the armed forces of the Union. (2) (4)

Export of all lethal items as well as other equipment and stores manufactured by Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) and Indian Ordnance Factories is governed by a regime administered by the Ministry of Defence in consultation with the Ministry of External Affairs. DPSUs and ordnance factories may export their items only on receipt of a "No-Objection Certificate" (NOC) from the Department of Defence Production and Supplies, Ministry of Defence. The grant of an NOC is subject, inter alia , to an end-user certificate - on a government-to-government basis - and to conformity with foreign policy objectives - which includes a ban on exports to countries under UN embargo. (4)

Both exports and imports by individuals or commercial entities are permitted only with relevant licences. (4)

REFERENCES

  1. United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), The World Factbook 2002 , India: www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/.
  2. United Nations, International Study on Firearm Regulation , August 1999 update, India: www.uncjin.org/Statistics/firearms.
  3. International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), "South and Central Asia": http://www.iansa.org/regions/scasia/scasia.htm.
  4. National report of India on the Implementation of the United Nations' Small Arms and Light Weapons Programme of Action, 2002, submitted to the UN Department of Disarmament Affairs: http://disarmament.un.org/cab/salw-nationalreports.html.
  5. Graduate Institute of International Studies, Small Arms Survey 2003: Development Denied , Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, pp. 59-60; 112.
  6. Williams James Arputharaj, Chamila Thushani Hemmathagama and Saradha Nanayakkara, A Comparative Study of Small Arms Legislation in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka , Colombo, Sri Lanka: South Asia Partnership (SAP) International, July 2003.
  7. Niobe Thompson and Devashish Krishnan, "Small Arms in India and the Human Costs of Lingering Conflicts", in Abdel-Fatau Musah and Niobe Thompson, eds., Over a Barrel: Light Weapons and Human Rights in the Commonwealth , London and New Delhi: Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), November 1999, pp. 35-64.

 

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