Centre examining issue of bulk arms licence for pvt agencies

16 Feb 2009, 0537 hrs IST, Bharti Jain, ET Bureau

NEW DELHI: With 26/11 strikes in Mumbai pushing up the demand for better security systems among individuals and corporates, the Centre is examining the demand of private security agencies to be issued bulk arms licences. The Union home ministry has started a consultation process with the states on the possible amendments to the entire gamut of Arms Act, including allowing guards in banks and private security agencies to keep non-prohibited firearms after due training.

In a letter sent to the states late last month, MHA has sought their views and suggestions on the how the outdated Arms Act, 1959, can be reviewed and tuned into modern-day security needs. According to MHA sources, states have been asked to give inputs on matters like whether Arms Act must be liberalised in the first place, given the risk that a freer licensing regime poses the risk of arms getting into the hands of criminals and anti-social elements; whether bulk licences should be issued to private security firms; what kind of training must be given to a person who is to be issued firearms; and whether weapons of non-prohibited bores can be imported or allowed to be manufactured here in private or joint sectors.

The need for a consultation process with states was felt as each state has different arms licensing norms, though the broad policy is that small arms light weapons (SALW) licences can be issued to individuals alone. This had resulted in most private security firms either hiring ex-Army personnel who had an individual arms licence or asking their clients to procure the licences. Even in banks, the armed guard is only a ‘retainer’ — officially speaking, one who is authorised to only transport the firearm for repairs and back — of the firearm, even as the license is issued in the name of the bank manager.

Also, as per the current Arms Act, individuals can only source arms manufactured by Indian Ordnance factories or private manufacturers (single and double-barrel guns). However, given the heightened terror threat to private sector installations and the limited force availability, a need was felt to arm private security services on par with police and para-military personnel. “The current terror scenario means that private security firms guarding corporates in key sectors cannot rely on outdated weapons any longer and must be allowed access to imported arms to take on AK-47 wielding terrorists,” an MHA official noted.

The states, the official added, have been asked to comment on whether the import of arms can be allowed or if their local manufacture can be permitted through private sector or public-private ventures.

Another point touched upon by MHA with states is if some level of training should be given to the user of the weapon. The states have been asked for their suggestion on whether training should be made mandatory or if a minimum training course or regimen can be specified for private security guards for each category of weapon.

Post 26/11, requests for arms licenses have been pouring in both from individual and private security agencies. While individuals have demanded easier norms and speedy disposal of requests for issue and renewal of arms licences — the letter, ironically, seeks the states’ views on how implementation of pre-verification norms can be tightened in certain states —private security firms have been pressing the government for bulk arms licenses.

The MHA letter has asked to respond as soon as possible. It is only after the states’ views are in that a call will be taken on the extent to which Arms Act norms can be liberalised without enhancing the risk of its facilitating the access of criminal elements to licensed weapons.

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