Srinagar: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) carried out searches at multiple locations in Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday, including at the government accommodation of senior bureaucrat Shahid Choudhary, as part of investigation related to an arms licensing fraud.
The investigative agency conducted searches in as many as 40 locations including in Jammu, Srinagar, Baramulla, Udhampur, Rajouri, Anantnag and Delhi, which included residential premises of several administrative officers related to the alleged arms racket. The CBI has been investigating the fake licence case since 2018.
According to its official statement, the CBI had registered two cases following a request by the J&K Government and a further notification from Government of India. It took over the investigation of two FIRs – No.18 of 2018 dated June 15, 2018 earlier registered at Police Station Vigilance Organisation Kashmir (VOK) and FIR No. 11 of 2018 of Police Station Vigilance Organisation Jammu (VOJ). The allegations are of the bulk issuance of arms licences in the erstwhile state during the period 2012 to 2016.
More than 2.78 lakh arms licences were issued to non-entitled persons following which the investigative agency collected documents related to the armed licences, allegedly spread over 22 districts in the region.
“The role of certain gun dealers was found during the investigation and scrutiny of documents. They, in connivance with public servants including the then DM and ADM of the concerned district, had allegedly issued such illegal arms licences to ineligible persons,” a spokesperson said.
The persons who received these fake licenses were not residents of areas where the licenses were issued.
Choudhary, who is currently the Administrative Secretary of the Tribal Affairs Department and is also Chief Executive Officer, J&K Mission Youth, Mission Director, Skill Development Mission, Jammu & Kashmir, is being investigated for his alleged role in the fraud. He had served as Deputy Commissioner of a district where many fake gun licenses are believed to have been issued.
The first Muslim to have qualified the UPSC exam from Jammu in 2008, Choudhary also became the first person from the Gujjar community to have achieved the feat. He was the serving deputy commissioner of capital Srinagar when the Centre carried out the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019. Believed to be in the ‘thick of things’ ahead of the move, Choudhary was among the key officers in implementing the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019
Last year in March, the CBI arrested two former district magistrates of Kupwara Rajiv Ranjan – an IAS officer – and Itrat Hussain, who served in the border district between 2013 and 2015. Several other senior administrative officials were also named in the investigation. However, many of them continue to serve in various key positions.
Officials privy to the investigation later revealed that the gun licenses were allegedly being procured illegally with bribes ranging from Rs 10,000 to Rs 40,000 each, which went to a network of administrative clerks and officers. Many of these licenses went to businessmen, ex-servicemen, bank workers and sometimes even to persons with a criminal record.
The alleged syndicate of fake arms licensing was first exposed during an investigation carried out by Rajasthan ATS in 2017, a year before the issuance of gun licenses was suspended in J&K and a probe was ordered.
At the time Choudhary was leading a separate investigation in a land grabbing case in Rajouri district where he was posted. In his defence, Choudhary, while confirming the CBI raids at his residence on Twitter, said nothing “incriminating” was recovered from the premises.