The ongoing crackdown on Khalistan supporters has brought to light a questionable delay in revoking arms licences granted to the armed guards of radical preacher Amritpal Singh in Jammu and Kashmir, officials said. It appeared that the fugitive preacher’s two personal security officers who are retired from the Army — Varinder Singh of the 19th Sikh Regiment and Talwinder Singh of the 23rd Armoured Punjab Regiment — had their arms licences either renewed or freshly issued from districts in the neighbouring Union Territory.
Officials said that despite the additional director general of police (intelligence) of Punjab writing to the deputy commissioners concerned on January 12 — almost six weeks before an altercation involving Amritpal Singh’s supporters where the duo unabashedly exhibited their weapons — the licences were not cancelled.
Under section 17 (3)(b) of the Arms Act, the licensing authority possesses the power to nullify or suspend a licence if they perceive it necessary for public safety. The arms licences of both Talwinder Singh of Kot Dharam Chand Klan in Amritsar district and Varinder Singh alias Fauji, who is currently incarcerated in Assam, were invalidated by the deputy commissioners of Ramban and Kishtwar districts respectively.
Varinder Singh’s licence had not been renewed since July 24, 2017, according to the cancellation order of March 9 this year. Cases of issuance of fake gun licences have been reported from Jammu an Kashmir from time to time, and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is probing the matter.
On October 16, 2018, the CBI lodged the first set of FIRs over alleged malpractices in granting 2.78 lakh arms licences in 22 districts of Jammu and Kashmir between 2012 and 2016.
In December 2019, the CBI conducted raids at a dozen locations in Srinagar, Jammu, Gurgaon, and Noida on the premises of the then district collectors and magistrates of Kupwara, Baramulla, Udhampur, Kishtwar, Shopian, Rajouri, Doda and Pulwama.
“During investigation and scrutiny of documents, the role of certain gun dealers was found who in connivance with the public servants — the then DM and ADM of the districts concerned — had allegedly issued such illegal arms licenses to the ineligible persons. It was also alleged that the persons who got these licenses were not residents of the places from where the said arms licenses were issued,” CBI spokesperson R C Joshi had said in a statement.
It is alleged in the FIR that then public servants in cahoots with other accused issued arms licences to non-residents of Jammu and Kashmir in violation of rules and received illegal gratification.
The radical preacher has been on the run since the Punjab Police launched a crackdown on his Waris Punjab De outfit on March 18. Several of his associates have, however, been arrested by the police.
Officials stated that the recent revocations of arms licenses would allow the CBI to interrogate some of the accused arrested by the Punjab Police under the National Security Act.
Amritpal Singh had been recruiting renegade ex-servicemen and drug addicts to establish an armed gang that could easily be transformed into a terrorist group, officials said.
Former army personnel were imparting arms training to the new recruits, they said.
Talwinder Singh and Varinder Singh were identified as associates by Amritpal Singh even before his return from Dubai in August last year.
Reportedly, seven of his personal security officers were young people who had joined his drug de-addiction centre for rehabilitation, but were indoctrinated and trained to embrace the gun culture and follow in the footsteps of slain terrorist Dilawar Singh, who blew himself up and killed former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh, said the officials.
Focusing on renegade ex-servicemen was beneficial for the pro-Khalistan preacher as they already possessed arms that could help his organisation evade the law, added the officials.
Security agencies became suspicious after intelligence inputs suggested that Amritpal Singh was using drug de-addiction centres and a gurdwara for hoarding weapons and preparing youngsters for suicide attacks, said the officials.
A dossier, with inputs from various security agencies, alleged that Amritpal Singh was primarily engaged in preparing youngsters to become ‘Khadkoos’ (terrorists). During the investigation, arms and ammunition intended for the Anandpur Khalsa Fauj (AKF), a creation of Amritpal Singh, were confiscated. Police also seized uniforms and jackets bearing the ‘AKF’ markings from the preacher’s car.
Following the arrest of several of Amritpal Singh’s supporters in a significant crackdown weeks after the storming of the Ajnala police station near Amritsar to secure the release of an arrested associate, the preacher is now on the run.
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