With unearthing of two more AK-47 rifles from Bardah village in Munger, the number of such weapons smuggled from Jabalpur Ordnance factory has gone up to eight within a fortnight, forcing the security apparatus in Bihar to think of handing over the case to National Investigating Agency.
Involvement of an army man and possibilities of over 100 AK-47 smuggled out of the Ordnance factory being used in terror attacks, including Dhaka terrorist attacks of 2016, has further complicated the case.
The police arrested Lance Naik Niyazul Rehman, who was posted in Bagdogra. He is the younger brother of one of the main accused, Mohammad Shamsher, from whom three AK-47 was recovered on September 6.
Munger Senior Superintendent of Police Babu Ram on Saturday informed that the latest tranche of weapons and large quantity of cartridges were hidden three feet below the ground in the residential premises of Amna Khatun. The police arrested seven people, including three women in the case. In all, 11 persons in Munger and three in Jabalpur have been arrested in the arms smuggling case.
It has emerged that more than 100 AK-47 rifles were smuggled out of Jabalpur Ordnance factory between 2012 and 2018. The main accused, Purushottam, promised Rs 50,000 for each AK-47 to the civilian officer in the depot.
While Suresh Thakur would sneak the automatic rifles out of the depot by fragmenting it into pieces, Purushottam was himself employed in the armoury section of the ordnance factory and retired in 2012.
Purushottam and his wife Chandrawati would travel straight to Munger with consignments of AK-47 and deliver it there to Mohammad Shamsher, Imran and others. They sold each AK-47 for Rs 5 lakh. Munger was specifically chosen as it has been infamous for the illegal arms factories and everyone from petty criminals to dreaded gangsters and banned outfits approach this place for buying firearms.
The real headache for the police is to find out who are using these rifles now? Munger SP Babu Ram told News18 that they were not ruling out any option. "It might have gone into the hands of criminals, naxals or even terrorists. We are investigating from all angles," he said.
Babu Ram said that the police has not yet interrogated arrested army man Niyazul Rehman. "We will seek his remand possibly next week," he added.
The suspicion of these Assault rifles being used in July 1, 2016 terror attacks in Bangladesh’s Dhaka, has also enhanced the scale and scope of the investigation. Jabalpur SP Amit Singh told the media a couple of days ago that they would study the types of weapons used in all terrorists attacks after 2012.
Reiterating his observations, Munger SP also said that all possible angles would be probed. When asked about the difficulty in probing this case that has links with more than one state, he said, "Our team visited Jabalpur and apprised them about our findings. The MP police was also in Munger a few days ago. We make contact whenever needed."
On the chances of NIA taking over the investigation, Babu Ram said, "The decision has to be taken by the state police headquarters. We will cooperate. However, we regularly update the higher authorities about the developments in the case and they are aware of the details."
Meanwhile, sources in the Police HQ conceded that NIA might be roped in to unravel the web of arms smuggling which seems unprecedented in nature.
How the Racket Was Busted
It was around 4.30 pm on August 29, when a man in his 30s came out of Jamalpur Railway Station and suspiciously moved towards Jubli well area. A bike-borne quick response team of police intercepted him and questioned him regarding his ‘belongings’ in the trolley bag. He identified himself as Imran and became nervous. Both the jawans were in for shock when they found three AK-47 rifles, 30 magazines, seven pistons of AK-47, seven spring, seven body cover, seven pistols, same amount of bridge block and other parts of the assault rifle.
He was arrested and during the investigation, spilled the beans. "Purushottam Lal had handed him the consignment on Jamalpur railway station. As always, he travelled in Lokmanya Express and returned soon after handing the bag to Imran," Babu Ram said.
Meanwhile, Jabalpur Police was informed and Purushottam Lal was arrested by the MP police. During interrogation, Imran said that another consignment of three AK-47 had arrived just a week ago and Mohammad Shamsher had received that, following which a team comprising ASP Hari Shankar nabbed Shamsher on September 6 from Wardha area of Munger. An identical bag containing three AK-47 with cartridges and other parts of the assault rifle were found with him.
Munger police was informed by their Jabalpur counterparts that Purushottam and Suresh Thakur confessed about selling more than 70 AK-47 in Munger. This piece of information rattled the police. They took Shamsher on remand and based on his inputs, a large team of police laid seize to Bardah village for two days, searching every nook and corner with metal detectors.
Finally on Friday night, they stumbled upon another set of arms and ammunition, hidden below the ground in the residential premises of Rizwana Khatun. Shamsher had informed that after Imran's arrest, he had handed over two AK-47 rifles to his maternal uncle, Manjar Khan, who gave it to Lokmanya and Ayesha. Both buried the two rifles, two double barrel guns and huge amount of cartridges in residential complex of Rizwana with her consent. They all have been arrested.
Gangsters’ and Naxals’ Fascination With AK-47
Apart from global terrorist organisations, the lust for this automatic assault rifle among Maoists and gang lords in Bihar and Jharkhand runs high because of the fear factor associated with this gun. Curved magazine having 30 bullets with burst fire capacity makes this a lethal weapon and any gangster would want it to have in his armoury.
Since illegal arms manufacturing has been popularly known as ‘cottage industry’ in Munger, these outfits reach out to them for assault rifles. All those, who worked in the British-era gun factory, passed on their skills to the next generations, who further polished it and is now capable of producing identical pieces of Chinese and American pistols and rifles.
However, these dealers also deliver original arms smuggled from armed forces. Veteran crime journalist Gyaneshwar Vatsayan says, "Terror link might be new but if we treat naxals also as terrorists then the Magadh zone and Jharkhand-West Bengal area command of the CPI Maoists have always benefited from the Munger facilities."
Use of AK-47 by gang lords in Bihar has its origin in 1991 when dreaded criminal Samrat Ashok used it to wield influence all over Bihar. However, first recovery was made from the house of Suraj Singh in Rampur Dumra Village near Mokamah. Suraj was a close associate of Dilip Singh, elder brother of independent MLA Ananth Singh.
In early 90s, even police forces in Bihar had no access of AK-47 and the first casualty was Dhanbad Superintendent of Police Randhir Verma in 1991. Brave police officer Verma himself challenged bank robbers, who shot him using AK-47 and fled.
In the endless stories of gang wars, Muzaffarpur-based gang lord Chhotan Shukla was perhaps the first casualty of AK-47 whose ambassador car was sprayed with bullets on December 4, 1994. A day after, the then Gopalganj DM, G Krishnaiyah, was lynched for the killing.
Bihar Flooded with AK-47 After Purulia Arms Drop in 1995
Journalist Vatsayan says the dark weapon market of Bihar was flooded with AK-47 after Purulia Arms Drop on December 17, 1995.
A Latvian aircraft dropped a large consignment of arms including several hundred AK-47 rifles and more than 16,000 rounds of ammunition over a large area in Jhalda, Ghatanga, Belamu, Maramu villages of Purulia district on the night of December 17, 1995. Several days later, when the plane re-entered Indian airspace, it was intercepted by the Indian Air Force MiG-21 and forced to land.
Recalling the incident, Vatsayan said the general gossip in the area was that the henchmen of Pappu Yadav, now Madhepura MP, looted the largest chunk of AK-47 dropped in the fields. However, after a couple of months every dreaded criminal started to flaunt AK-47.
The same weapon was used in the murder of four-time CPM MLA from Purnia, Ajeet Sarkar, on June14, 1998 in which Pappu Yadav was made the prime accused.
Why Munger is Emerging As the Capital of Gun Trade in East
The history goes back to Mir Qasim, the Nawab of Bengal, who laid the foundation stone of the first gun factory in Munger. When he was defeated in the famous Battle of Buxar, the East India Company took it under its control. After Independence, it was owned by the Indian government.
The workers of the factory were used to trying hands at their homes after duty hours. They were mostly from Bardah village. In course of time, they succeeded in producing firearms. The geographical advantage of the area also helped in flourishing illegal arms trade. Situated on the banks of river Ganga, it provided easy transportation through boats.
The ravines of Ganga remained inaccessible till recently where temporary hatchets were used to deal in arms. Initially, only ‘Desi Katta’ (country made guns) were manufactured, which exchanged hand at dirt cheap rate of even Rs 100.
Initial buyers were also from the nearby villages as they used it to keep cattle and crop thieves at bay. Soon, they started to manufacture country-made rifles (Masket), which generated huge demands from bandits.
The margin kept sky-rocketing, which propelled them to use imported machineries for producing sophisticated weapons. The journey that started from ‘Katta’ reached to producing revolvers, pistols, mousers and carbines.
The flourishing industry became the lone source of income for the villagers of Bardah. Even children, women and elders are now involved in the trade. Mini gun factory could be seen at everyone's backyard.
Despite being the known secret, successive state governments failed to control the illegal arms trade. Munger Zone Deputy Inspector General Jitendra Mishra told News18 that a Special Investigation Team (SIT) had been formed to check the menace. He vowed not to allow Munger as the hub of the arms trade, a familiar promise his predecessors too had made.
One can buy copied version of firearms of any country from Bardah with tags of Made in England, Made in America, Made in Japan and so on. Prima facie, even an expert would not be able to decipher the difference between original and copied versions.
The average transaction is estimated to be around Rs 20 to 25 lakh per day. Bardah, Churumba, Bakarpur and Sudurkhana villages are completely dependent on this trade and half of their population involved.