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Arms regulation legislation hits snags

December 20, 2012

KARACHI, Dec 20: The Sindh Arms Bill 2012 has been put on hold after a new debate surrounding the provincial government powers to approve it caused the authorities to seek Islamabad’s opinion on the issue, it emerged on Thursday.

While the federal law ministry has yet to come up with an opinion on the issue, the Sindh home department has issued a new ‘arms licensing policy’ as a provisional arrangement.

The process to make the crucial arms law, which had been initiated on the Supreme Court order for the cancellation of all non-computerised arms licences within six months, now hangs in the balance, sources privy to the recent developments said.

“Some legal experts have doubts that despite the 18th amendment made to the constitution, criminal laws remain the domain of the centre,” said an official.

“For further clarity on the issue, the Sindh government approached the federal law ministry to get its opinion and put off the Sindh Arms Bill 2012 draft approval from the provincial cabinet. The situation has, however, delayed the entire process.”

The move, he said, had been made to avoid any further controversy over the issue after the proposed draft would become law.

He reiterated that the fate of the regulation remained unclear until the federal government came up with opinion on the subject.

“Since the new and enhanced arms regulation is seen important, the Sindh home department has issued a new arms licensing policy as a temporary arrangement until the final response comes from Islamabad,” the official added.

“The additional chief secretary (home) Waseem Ahmed recently issued an elaborated guideline to acquire arm licence in any part of the province. For non-prohibited bore arm, age limit of the licensee has been increased to 25 years, while the licensing of non-prohibited bore arms has been banned for an indefinite period.”

Similarly, the new licensing policy disallows individuals to keep more than four arms licences and imposes strict clauses for verification process. However, the new policy exempts parliamentarians, retired and serving government officers of Grade 17 and above, commissioned and junior commissioned officers of the armed forces from any verification process.

“The Sindh home department has entered into an agreement with the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) for verification of more than a million arms licences. Under the arrangement, all non-computerised licenses will be cancelled,” said Mr Ahmed.

Under the new policy, a licence holder needs to get registered with their respective police station within 15 days and buy a weapon within 60 days after getting the licence.

“The fee has been fixed at Rs4,500 for personal use licence and Rs6,500 for companies or institutions. The licensee will also pay additional Rs500 in account of licence book.”

Though the new ‘arms licensing policy’ is seen a move in right direction, people associated with the legislation process of the Sindh Arms Bill 2012 believe that delay in legislation due to the debate over the centre and provincial jurisdiction may damage the scope of the entire hectic exercise meant to discourage spread of arms in society.

“The arms bill draft proposes enhanced penalties against those using or carrying illegal weapons. It also declares the offence non-bailable and if proved a convict may face up to 12 years imprisonment,” said another official.

“To ensure that the law is not exploited, the law also proposes a permanent check on officials of the law-enforcement agencies and investigators. For instance, if any official is found involved in lodging a false case against any person, he will face termination and imprisonment up to seven years.”

The official said that currently available in six districts, the Nadra facility was likely to be expanded once the Sindh Arms Act-2012 became effective. The Sindh home department remained in close contact with Nadra during the exercise and through joint proposals came to design foolproof system that ensures permanent check on arms licensing and discourages weaponisation, he said.

“It’s in fact a beginning of streamlining the record that has not been in order for past many decades. It’s an effort to fix the past serious errors but recent halt to the process may not only damage its scope but may also put its effectiveness in jeopardy,” he added.