Intelligence Branch to check 1,300 guns in the Darjeeling

The state government has asked the Intelligence Branch to prepare a list of people with licences to possess guns in the Darjeeling hills and check if the arms are in the custody of the owners.

The IB was directed to keep tabs on former army personnel to find out if they were training Gorkhaland Personnel, the voluntary force of the Morcha.

The authorities apprehend violence during the ongoing agitation by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha for a separate state and want to pre-empt a Lalgarh-like situation when Maoists took away licensed guns from the owners and used them to fight the security forces and CPM cadres.

According to records, nearly 1,300 civilians have licences to own firearms in Darjeeling district — in the hills and plains.

“First, we will identify those who possess licensed guns. The next course of action will be to visit the licence-holders’ houses at random to find out whether the firearms are in their possession. If a licence-holder fails to produce his or her weapon, legal action will be taken,” said an officer of Darjeeling police.

According to rules, a licensee has to keep the weapon in his or her own possession. No one can pass a licensed firearm to another person.

“There is information that a number of gun licence holders in the three subdivisions, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong, joined Morcha activists supporting the demand for Gorkhaland. We are yet to receive a specific order from the higher authorities on the next course of action if the bandh is not withdrawn before the deadline the chief minister set yesterday,” said the officer.

Mamata Banerjee had set an ultimatum of 72 hours yesterday for the Morcha to withdraw its indefinite strike and warned of strong action if it didn’t.

Elaborating on what had prompted the state government to initiate the check on the gun licence-holders, an official in the home department said: “We learned a lesson from the Lalgarh movement. During the stalemate in the rebel hotbeds in Jungle Mahal, the Maoists took away the licensed firearms from the owners and utilised them while fighting with security forces and the armed cadres of the CPM. The Morcha activists may adopt the Maoists’ strategy.”

Police sources said the law enforcers had been asked verbally to get ready for strict action against those responsible for the unrest in hills.

“The IB has already alerted us, saying the Morcha activists would not give up easily and would try to retaliate. If police initiate tough action, we fear the agitators will turn violent,” said another officer in Darjeeling.

A day after the chief minister’s statement that the government was keeping an eye on the Morcha’s financial strength, the IB told the Writers’ Buildings that there might be a flow of funds from Nepal to the hill outfit.

“The Morcha is assuring demonstrators of providing them with rations and financial help. We have already come to know that the agitators enjoy the support of Maoists in Nepal. We suspect the rebels in the neighbouring country are supplying arms and ammunition and extending financial help,” said an IB officer.

The IB personnel have also been instructed to bring under the scanner “former army men had once trained the youths who joined the Gorkhaland Personnel”.

“We suspect the former army personnel may again train them,” said an IB officer.

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