The arrest of Additional Chief Executive Officer Metropolitan Regulatory Authority, Kumar Rajeev Ranjan, in the country’s biggest gun licence scandal by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Sunday, 1 March, is historic in the sense that no IAS officer has been arrested by any investigating agency in Jammu and Kashmir in the last over 13 years.Even as FIRs have been registered by the erstwhile State’s Vigilance Organisation (SVO), now known as the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), after preliminary verification of charges against about a dozen IAS officers from time to time, only three had been arrested in the last over 50 years: HL Kadalbujo by the CBI in the Kandla Port Trust scam, Ajeet Kumar in jute procurement scam by the SVO in 2003, and Iqbal Khanday in the infamous Srinagar sex scam in 2006. None of them was later convicted though.We’re Giving Pens to Kids, They’re Giving Guns: Kejriwal Slams BJPThe SVO’s FIRs have not troubled the bureaucracy as investigations have been going on since long against the retired—Arun Kumar, Satish Nehru, Basharat Ahmad Dhar, Mohammad Afzal Bhat—as well as the serving IAS officers like Sudhanshu Pandey, Baseer Ahmad Khan, Hirdesh Kumar, Sarita Chauhan, Ajeet Kumar Sahu, Pandurang Kodbarao Pole and Tushar Kanti Sharma.Even after the CBI began questioning him, Ranjan continued to retain key positions in the administration, courtesy his IAS rank.Alongside his substantive posting as ACEO Metropolitan Regulatory Authority, he simultaneously got additional portfolios of MD/CEO of Mass Rapid Transit Corporation Jammu, MD/CEO of Srinagar Metro Rail Transport Corporation and Vice Chairman of Jammu Development Authority. He has left his annual property statement blank. “Nothing in the name of undersigned”, he has recorded on 14 January 2020.Efforts To Protect the DMs Underway Since 2018Knowledgeable sources insist that the patrons of certain officers in politics and bureaucracy have been at work from day one to exclude them from the investigation.A well-placed official source revealed to The Quint that the gun licence scam had first surfaced in 2007 when Ghulam Nabi Azad was the Chief Minister.Years later in 2016, an officer of the rank of Inspector General of Police CID in J&K carried out a secret inquiry and reported to the Mehbooba Mufti government that a number of the District Magistrates (DMs), including IAS officers, had issued gun licences in bulk on fraudulent documents to non-J&K residents claiming to be members of the army or paramilitary forces.Anup Jalota Holds a Gun, Jasleen Asks ‘Aap Yahan Aaye Kisliye?’“It was established that several DMs, through particular clerks in their offices, had been issuing gun licences to outsiders against bribes ranging between Rs 10,000 and Rs 40,000 each. The modus operandi was to produce a fake letter purportedly from a Commanding Officer certifying that the applicant was working under his command. Within a few days, the gun licence would be delivered to the applicant through a well-knit network of agents”, said the officer on condition of anonymity.Rules are drastically relaxed for the armed forces personnel posted in J&K who wish to keep a personal weapon.Unlike the civilians, they are entitled to a gun licence from any district on the recommendation of a letter from their commanding officers without verification from the Police. This loophole appears to have been exploited by the masterminds of the multi-billion scam.Beneficiaries Include Gangsters, Builders, Job-AspirantsThe officer elaborated how a large number of “outsiders”, particularly gangsters, builders, jewellers, businessmen and those in search of jobs as security guards in banks in different states had managed to obtain such gun licences in the last over 15 years. At least two New Delhi-based journalists are said to have received their gun licences through the same stream.“It’s a scandal running in billions of Rupees. Over four lakh licences have been issued in the last 10-12 years. Only 10 percent have gone to genuine local applicants and may be 10 percent more to the bonafide security forces personnel. Undoubtedly, around 80 percent of such licences have been issued fraudulently”, asserted the officer, revealing further how the CID IG’s report had been gathering dust in Home Department at Civil Secretariat.He said in certain cases it had been observed that wealthy beneficiaries in Rajasthan and Maharashtra had purchased J&K’s gun licences for up to Rs 3 lakhs each.Significantly, the J&K Home Department’s order number 922 dated 12 July 2018 restricted the SVO’s “verification process” to the period from 1 July 2017 to 23 February 2018. During this process, Rajan managed to get a letter from Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL), certifying that the signatures on the licences did not match those of the IAS officer.How ATS Rajasthan Stumbled on the J&K GoldmineA full year before Governor N N Vohra got issuance of the gun licences suspended and ordered a “verification process” by SVO in July 2018, Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the Rajasthan Police had learnt that the racket had been going on since 2003 and over two dozen IAS and Kashmir Administrative Service (KAS) officers had issued bulk of such licences against hefty bribes.Police Arrests Man Who Allegedly Supplied Gun to Jamia ShooterIt was during investigation of terrorism-related crimes that the ATS Rajasthan learnt how a racket of gun-shop owners, manufacturers, middlemen and the J&K officers, had fraudulently managed to prepare thousands of gun licences. In the secret operation ‘Zubeida’, the ATS reportedly intercepted telephonic conversations, conducted raids and arrested as many as 55 actors. They included the key players — Rahul Grover from Jammu, Vishal from Abohar in Punjab and Zubair Khan from Ajmer, Rajasthan. All of them managed to get bail.The ATS is understood to have got the Jammu link after it noticed that the brother of Ranjan, then DM Jammu, had received cash worth Rs 40 lakh from a suspicious source.On his arrest, Ranjan’s brother spilled the beans and revealed how meticulously the racket had been operating from J&K to Rajasthan.CBI Probe Only After a Great Deal of ProcrastinationNames of the owner of Adarsh Credit Cooperative Society and his nephew reportedly popped up during the ATS probe. He is already in jail in connection with Rs 9,000 crore housing society-scam. His nephew had faked a Jammu domicile certificate to procure a licensed gun while studying at a college in Pune. The ATS recorded the statement of the college principal and collected other evidences like call records and attendance register.Call intercepts of certain J&K officials are said to be highly incriminating. One of the officers is heard telling someone, “Investigators will not be able to touch us, so don’t panic’.As the J&K government did not cooperate with the investigation, Rajasthan Police Headquarters recommended to the Home Department in December 2017 that the case may be referred to Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) at the Centre for a thorough CBI probe. It was only after a terse reminder from the Rajasthan DGP O P Galhotra in July 2018 that the investigation was referred to the CBI. Two months later, even the J&K Governor wrote to the Centre that the investigation be conducted by the CBI. In October 2018, CBI took over the investigation.The ATS is said to have detected that 1,32,321 of the 1,43,013 licences in Jammu’s Doda, Ramban and Udhampur districts had been issued to the people, not the residents of J&K. It has been observed that in all 4,29,301 licences had been issued in the last over 10 years and only 10 percent had gone to the J&K residents. Now CBI is ascertaining the number of bonafide receivers in army, Indian Air Force, Navy, NSG and different paramilitary forces.Four Days, 3 Shootings — Rise of Gun Culture Before Delhi Polls?Powerful People In Trouble As CBI Launches RaidsIn its 16-month-long investigation, the CBI is understood to have detected activity of around 75 individuals spread in Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon and J&K. One of them, reportedly a woman, is said to have turned approver and named a senior J&K official posted in New Delhi as a key driver of the gun cartel.Over a year after it took over the investigation, the CBI on 30 December 2019, carried out raids on premises of the retired and serving IAS and KAS officers who had continued to remain posted in districts like Kupwara and Baramulla in Kashmir and Kishtwar, Udhampur and Rajouri in Jammu where the maximum number of arms licences had been issued. In all, 17 premises were searched in Delhi, Greater Noida, Noida, Amritsar, Gurugram, Mohali besides in Jammu, Srinagar, Kupwara and Bandipora. These belonged to Ranjan (IAS-2010), Yasha Mudgal (IAS-2007) and retired KAS officers Itrat Hussain Rafiqui, Mohammad Javed Khan, Mohammad Saleem, Faqeer Chand Bhagat, Farooq Ahmad Khan and Jehangir Ahmad Mir.Sources said that as many as nine valuable properties of a female IAS officer were under the scanner in Delhi, Noida, Greater Noida and Amritsar, though she, too, was continuing to hold a key position.As many as 1,17,905 gun licences have been found to be issued between 2010 and 2013. Among 22 districts, Kishtwar figures at the top with 30,872 licences—20,610 in 2014 and 10,262 in 2015.Some Arrests Amid Big Test For CBI’s CredibilityOn 25 February, CBI arrested Rahul Grover as he allegedly was a key driver and conduit between the J&K officers, gun dealers and agents. On 1 March, CBI arrested Ranjan and Rafiqui, who have both served as DMs in Kupwara. Rafiqui is separately involved in a case of embezzlement of funds in Ganderbal which has been investigated by ACB.Notwithstanding its non-seriousness in the investigations in some high profile assassinations, CBI established its credibility in J&K when it held five senior army officers guilty of the murder of equal number of innocent civilians in a fake encounter at Pathribal in March 2000. Army’s institutional support to the accused, however, failed the prosecution. In the Srinagar sex scam in 2006, it established charges and got arrested men like former Chief Secretary Iqbal Khanday, former Minister Raman Matoo and a DIG of BSF. Later witnesses turned hostile and most of the accused were acquitted.Amid a protracted turbulence in 2009, the CBI established that there was no substance in the charges of rape and murder of two young women in Shopian and concluded that it was a “conspiracy to defame the security forces” involving a number of doctors, lawyers and separatists.Would the premier Central agency withstand the obvious pulls and pressures from the corridors of power? It remains a matter of speculation and a big test for the CBI’s institutional credibility. We'll get through this! Meanwhile, here's all you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak to keep yourself safe, informed, and updated. The Quint is now available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, Click here to join.