The illegal 'Make in India': What makes Munger a favourite destination of criminals

Munger/Patna/New Delhi In Munger, a district deep inside the badlands of southern Bihar, a manufacturing revolution is in full swing. It’s ‘Make in India’ alright, but not the way Prime Minister Narendra Modi would like it. Over the last decade, this district on the banks of the Ganga has built a formidable reputation as hub of illegal gun-making, marking a clear shift of the business in firearms from urban to rural pockets.

From country-made pistols – kattas, a favourite among criminals of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar – to revolvers, the backward villages of Vardah, Daulatpur and Baisar produce everything on demand. With expertise and talent in gun-making available they have graduated, if sources close to the ground are to be believed, to making AK-47s too. What the guns lack in aesthetics, they make up in efficiency. And the buyers are not complaining. Such is the demand that these illegal ‘Made in Munger’ firearms are even ordered by Maoists and arms peddlers in neighbouring Nepal and Bangladesh. The connectivity between Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand provides safe transit for the consignments.

Firstpost travelled to the ‘Wasseypurs’ of Bihar and spoke to many manufacturers. Here’s what they say:

The origin
Munger district has a 200-year-old association with indigenous gun-making. During the First World War the gun manufacturers here came into prominence by developing the cartridge gun. During Indo-China War of 1962, the Defence ministry required 410-bore musket, which was produced by Munger Ordinance Factory. But it was shut down thereafter, leaving a large number of workers unemployed. These workers set up their private lathe workshops or mini factories to manufacture firearms. Interestingly, some of them availed government funds for the workshops.
Initially into making crude single shot kattas, the gun makers here have diversified into much more sophisticated weapons such as western-style pistols and rifles.

AK 56s, AK 47s, .6 mm pistols and carbines and specially designed explosive devices made by highly professional hands makes Munger an attractive destination for criminals.
“The demand increases ahead of any election in the country, especially in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Jharkhand. We produce all sorts of arms, including the sophisticated ones like AK 47 and 56. All are available if money is paid to us in advance,” said a manufacturer on the condition of not being named and photographed.

How much they cost?
Some of them have started making exact replicas of highly famed models of international gun makers as Smith & Wesson, Webley and Scott to name a few, now. These can easily be procured for anywhere in between Rs 30,000 and Rs 75,000. Roughly put, a six-round revolver may cost anywhere around Rs 20,000, 9-mm automatic pistol Rs 30,000, .315 Rifle for Rs 35,000. While a carbine is available at Rs 2 lakh, an AK-47s costs between Rs 4-5 lakh.

“Criminals are ready to pay anything for quick delivery of arms,” said a local dealer. The seizure of 99 Munger-made pistols by the Delhi Police Special Cell last year corroborates the manufacturer’s claims. Most of the arms seized by the police were stamped: 'Only for Army use’, ‘Made in US' and ‘Made in Italy’. But all were made in the dingy lathe workshops of Munger.

Another manufacturer, who claimed to be a dealer as well, said the single-shot pistols, which can fire only one bullet, are "most in demand" as they are the cheapest. "Its price is even less than a local liquor bottle. It sells for around Rs 300 per piece,” he said but added that the price goes up to Rs 1,500 once the consignment reaches to destination because "the police, middlemen, transports and couriers agents have to be paid on the way".

“Generally, terrorists and Maoists needed rifles. But local criminals need the single-shot pistols to flash in order to threaten their rivals. They need not even use it,” he said.

Arms manufacturers procure a great deal of iron scrap from the defunct gun factories in the district as well as the railway workshop at Jamalpur to manufacture weapons.

How are orders placed and consignment delivered?

A majority of the dealers said they do not know who has placed orders because they deal only with the middlemen or the suppliers whose job is to transport the arms to their final destination.

"We do not know who has placed the orders for the arms. We deal with the middlemen because we know and trust them," said another dealer. It is the job of the suppliers to transport the consignment to the final destination safely," said a dealer. When asked who bears the loss in case the consignment is seized, the reply was: "the supplier".

"Depending on the volume, we pass the order to different manufacturers who get their payment against cash soon after the delivery. We then send the consignment to the supplier through our people and get the payment. Generally, it is not caught because the police, transport and courier agents are paid. Finally, the arms are delivered to the clients. In case of seizure, the supplier bears the loss," he explained.

These illegally manufactured arms are carried in sugar bags and electric wiring boxes. The preferred route for gunrunners is via Jamui, Deoghar and Giridih in Jharkhand and then to Asansol in Bengal — the distance of around 300 km. The weapons are also supplied through UP's Gorakhpur, Azamgarh, Sultanpur, Varanasi, Basti, Saint Kabir Nagar, Faizabad, Bahraich and Jaunpur districts to different parts of the country.

Interestingly, demand for cache of arms increases dramatically during the election season.

Bihar’s most trusted ‘cottage industry’

The "skilled" gun-makers of Munger have made the illegal firearms industry in the district a "revered" profession in the world of crime. The clientele includes criminals from at least nine states and even terrorist organisations, said a former top cop.

"Arms and ammunitions are manufactured illegally in other parts of the country but 'Made in Munger' is the most preferred variety. The reasons behind this are: they will not misfire and are roughly 50 percent cheaper than the original," said Ex-Additional SP of Sitamarhi, Mohammad Hasnain, who was posted in Munger for years.

He said the craftsmanship of the firearms manufactured here is flawless and the AK 47 and 56 rifles are exact copies of the original.

Munger, a theatre of the bizarre

The illegal Make in India: What makes Munger a favourite destination of criminals

Representational image. Reuters

While walking through the three villages of the shanty town, a mini gun factory on a boat right in the middle of the Ganges caught this correspondent's eye.

The floating makeshift illegal arms factory had a fixed a lathe machine in the boat and was busy making arms when the police surrounded them.

Even the cops, long used to Munger's unbelievable ways, were stunned to discover it. “It is a really surprising way of gun-making. We conduct raids periodically but more often, it turns out that the illegal unit has been tipped off. They run away towards diare (plane, sandy area near embankment of a river) with their apparatus. These areas are not easy to reach and you cannot go there on vehicles because of sand,” said SP Shukla, deputy inspector general of police (Munger range).

He further said cracking down on the manufacturers is also “extremely difficult” because of his “insufficient” number of police personnel.

According to a police estimate, around 300-400 illegal arms factory are functional in the district with the largest number of lathe machine-based workshops in the country. Around 2,000 men are involved in the manufacturing of the illegal arms in about 30 “units” spread across mainly Vardah and its adjoining villages - Baisar and Daulatpur.

However, former IPS officer sees "historical" reasons behind the flourishing illegal arms trade in the region.

"Arms manufacturers were brought in the district from Afghanistan in the 18th century by Mir Qasim, the then nawab of Bengal, to fight with the British. They stayed here, making arms for a living. Post independence, the government formed cooperatives for the skilled gun-makers so that they could manufacture arms for the state. But later, all these units were shut. Since the skilled lost their source of bread and butter, they started manufacturing illegal arms for criminals," he said.

Concrete rehabilitation plan needed to curb illegal trade
Senior state police officials believe if the government really wants to put an end to the illegal trade, it needs to come up with rehabilitation plan for those involved in the business for generations. They need to be provided with alternate source of earning for their livelihood.

“When we arrest the peddlers, most of them tell us that they do not have another source of bread and butter,” the cops added.

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Updated Date: Apr 06, 2015 17:21:33 IST

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