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Delhi lives in terror as gun crimes rise

Terrified residents in India's capital call for police to do more to tackle gun crime after a spate of shootings.

The site of one of the killings in Amar Colony in New Delhi is back to normal after the shooting incident on July 11.
The site of one of the killings in Amar Colony in New Delhi is back to normal after the shooting incident on July 11.

NEW DELHI // Terrified residents in India's capital are calling for police to do more to tackle gun crime after a spate of shootings this month left five men dead and a sixth in critical condition.

In the most recent incident, a 40-year old man was shot dead on Monday night in central Delhi. A week earlier, three men were shot and a fourth critically wounded by a motorcycle gang that police believed was responsible for a host of other crimes in the capital, including another shooting death on July 5. Critics said the problem stemmed from a rise in the number of guns, both licensed and unlicensed, flooding the Indian market, many of which are smuggled in from Pakistan and Myanmar.

"Availability of both unlicensed and licensed guns is a problem, that's how crime rates increase. Enforcement is what we need to work on," said Riju Raj Jamwal, a founding member of the Control Arms Foundation of India (CAFI), which lobbies for tighter gun control. There are no figures for the number of licensed firearms available in India. But data from the National Crime Records Bureau show gun crime has actually fallen in the last four years, a statistic Mr Jamwal said was misleading as many gun crimes go unreported for fear of reprisals from the perpetrators.

In 2004, 7,593 crimes using illegal firearms and 807 using licensed guns were reported. The number had fallen to 4,988 with illegal guns and 587 using legal firearms by 2006. Sunita Suri, the widow of Sanjeev Suri, a hotel employee shot dead on July 11, the same day two other men were shot and killed, told the CNN-IBN news channel: "We don't feel safe. The criminals are still moving in the city. They have not been arrested."

Police believe the killings were the work of a local gang led by a gangster known as "Bunty". No arrests have been made, but police have placed a 50,000 rupees (Dh4,364) bounty on each of the five members of the gang. India is the second most heavily armed country in the world after the United States for both licensed and illicit weapons with an estimated 46 million unlicensed guns in circulation, research by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies (CAFI) has shown.

About 40,000 of these are in the capital, according to CAFI. The bulk of these are higher-grade, sophisticated guns. However, the subcontinent also has a thriving industry of gun-makers who make crude, cheap firearms called desi kattas. These are smuggled into cities and towns and sold on the black market for as little 18,000 rupees for a new single-barrel shotgun. Critics said police had failed to enforce India's stringent gun laws and that society needed to do more to reduce the illegal firearms trade.

"The police are very vigilant and are trying to do the best job with the capacity that they have. It has to be a public-police partnership, and there has to be more social responsibility. It's not up to the police to do everything," Mr Jamwal said. To buy a gun legally, Indians must apply to their local administration's district commissioner for a licence. Police vet the application before the local administration decides whether to issue the permit. The police and local government keep records of authorised gun holders. Indian law also limits the amount of ammunition a licensed gun-owner can buy.

Rakesh Kumar Jain, a father of five and a grocery store owner in New Delhi who is considering applying for a gun licence, said society should educate the younger generation about the dangers of unlicensed guns and police must work harder to implement existing gun laws. "Illegal arms are the main problem. There is security there but you feel unsafe. We don't know who the criminals are. Before, there was less crime, now there's more. Young people, they want things, they don't have money.

"It's not safe. We need to be secure. In nice areas, the police provide security but in smaller, less posh areas, they don't. They should change that," Mr Jain, 50, said. Rajan Bhagat, the assistant commissioner of police in New Delhi, refuted suggestions that tighter police enforcement of gun laws would stem gun crime, and said the recent shootings were "isolated incidents". "The use of firearms is falling," he said.

"The figures show that. It's not a major problem. Delhi is a very safe city. The police don't need to work better to enforce gun laws." Tushar Singh, 21, a computer engineering student from New Delhi, said the problem was the ease with which people could acquire a gun. "I think it's the unlicensed guns that are made at home that are the problem. When I travel around the city, I see a lot of youth doing crime, young guys, around 18-to-20 years old, [are] already getting into it, because people want money.

"I think the police are doing their best, but the kind of population migrating into the city is too much to handle. You can't have a policeman on every street." Mr Bhagat said special police teams were investigating the recent shootings and that additional officers had been deployed to patrol "vulnerable" areas and major roads throughout the city. @Email:rsisodia@thenational.ae