For over 200 years, Munger has earned the identity of being a leading hub for legal as well as illegal gun manufacturing. But the situation is not same at present and those involved in legal trade rue the lack of interest among political parties and candidates about reviving the industry which has a glorious history even as campaigning for Bihar Assembly elections is going on in top gear.
Munger has been manufacturing guns since the era of Mir Qasim in the second half of 18th century. In those days and till early 1969, guns were legally manufactured at different places in Munger.
The gun factory was shifted to its present address at Functional Estate, Fort Area, Munger on June 5, 1969. Apart from the long history, Munger gun manufacturers also helped armed forces during the First World War. The Indian government after Independence in 1947 granted licenses to 36 small scale industries to produce firearms. When the Sino-India war broke out in 1962, the Munger Gun Factory supplied samples of 410 bore Muscat to the Defence Ministry.
With a stringent licensing policy in place, things changed dramatically in the last few decades and many illegal factories mushroomed in the area to supply high quality firearms to criminal gangs. Those involved in the legal manufacturing and trade say there is little chance of reviving the industry in the era of Nitish Kumar, Narendra Modi and Lalu Prasad even as illegal industry enjoys political patronage.
According to 70-year-old Naresh Singh, who owns Morgan Arms Company in the industrial city, revival of the gun factory can ensure jobs for not only thousands of youth across Bihar, thereby tackling the issue of unemployment, which has been crippling the state but also curb the illegal trade.
Talking about the cause of the poor condition of the arms factory, Singh said, “the state governments have not been giving license for the arms with ease, hence the factories are not functioning properly.”
He feels that a change in the policy of the government cannot just end unemployment, it will also benefit the state exchequer, refuting any possibility of an arms culture sprouting because of the move.
“We are talking about 12 bore guns. They should be made license free. It will help the youth get jobs of security guards at schools, banks, residential colonies etc.,” he said, adding, “This will never give rise to gun culture that would harm people. Have you ever heard of anyone committing crime with a licensed gun?”
Another trader involved in selling and repairing of guns, Mukul Prasad, pointed that the stern policy of the government has hit the trade badly. “There were 80 shops in the region before 2000, and now there are less than 15-20, of which many are shut down most of the time due to lack of customers.”
“Nearly 3000 people used to work at the factory, and now the number has reduced to around 150,” he added.
The factory has the capacity to produce at least 13,000 guns annually but it merely produces little over 2000 currently, with the cost of each being between Rs 11,000 to Rs 12,000, say traders. Though they express regret at the loss of jobs for many but refute reports of youth resorting to illegal manufacturing of guns.
“Those behind the illegal manufacturing are some miscreants, anti-social elements. Youth who got unemployed are now into different odd jobs or are unemployed. Some have even gone to other states. They will not go only if the factory is revived and the policy changed,” said Naresh Singh.
The absence of the issue in the poll agenda of parties pains stakeholders of the industry, who suggest that the loss being incurred currently is as much as Rs 1.75 crore every year. They feel that taking up the issue will ensure victory for a candidate in the area, but the leaders probably do not find the issue relevant enough to feature in their scheme of things.