The Bombay High Court has asked the Maharashtra Government to re-frame the guidelines in keeping with a directive of the Election Commission to individually review cases of licence holders of weapons during elections.
Pointing out to an anomaly in the guidelines issued by the Home department on August 17, 2009, a bench headed by Justice Abhay Oka observed that it merely mentions the categories of persons such as those released on bail, persons having history of criminal offences and persons involved in rioting especially during elections. However, these guidelines do not mention that cases of persons falling in such categories are required to be reviewed, said the bench in a speaking order on August 13.
Thus, the emphasis placed by the Election Commission on the need to review cases of such license holders falling in the aforesaid categories has been lost sight of by the Home Department while issuing such guidelines.
"The aforesaid categories comprise of such persons who though are issued arms licences could be involved in acts resulting in law and order situation. Hence, directions in that regard have been issued by the Election Commission that cases of such persons are required to be reviewed. The Home Department would therefore be required to modify the said guidelines to bring them in tune with the direction issued by the Election Commission on March 13, 1996," said the bench.
The court further noted that the State has not framed any guidelines whatsoever with regard to the functioning of the screening committee. Though the Screening Committee has been constituted, there are no guidelines with regard to manner in which it shall function. Such Committee will have to peruse the record of all licence holders. It also should have access to the police record of all the licence holders. "The guidelines should provide that a detailed review and assessment of individual cases be made. Considering its nature of work and the duty assigned to it, it is necessary that the Government frames appropriate guidelines with regard to functioning of Screening Committee," the Judges said.
Hearing two petitions, the court also quashed and set aside an order of District Magistrate in Satara directing the petitioners to deposit their weapons in local police stations in view of Lok Sabha elections in May 2014.
The Judges noted that there cannot be a blanket order asking licence holders to deposit their weapons in police stations during elections. Otherwise, a law abiding citizen who has been issued a licence to possess arms, can consider such an order directing him to surrender his arms as an affront to his dignity and status.
Noticing that there was no scrutiny committee and no guidelines to review cases, another bench of this Court had earlier issued directions to review cases for depositing arms in terms of the Election Commission directive.
The court had then ordered constitution of a Screening Committee consisting of District Magistrate and Superintendent of Police. It was also directed that cases of all the licence holders should be placed before the Screening Committee and after conducting the exercise of screening, the concerned licence holder be directed to deposit his arms.
Pursuant to this judgement, the government issued impugned guidelines on August 17, 2009, which specified categories of persons but did not mention review of cases individually, thereby creating an anomaly, said the bench. In the meetings of the Screening Committee held on March, 20, 2014 and April, 3, 2014, a blanket decision was taken calling upon about 732 arms licence holders to deposit their arms with the concerned authority.
The minutes indicate that each case was not independently reviewed as per the directions issued by the Election Commission, the Judges said.
The court disposed of both the petitions, while asking the Government to re-frame the guidelines so as to include the review of categories of persons holding licence to possess weapons.
In order to report compliance in regard to framing guidelines for functioning of the Screening Committee, the matter has been posted for hearing on September 22.