Bengaluru: The biggest challenge before investigators probing the murder of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh is not just homing in on the pot-bellied man who pulled the trigger or the men who sanctioned her killing, but tracking the origin of the three bullets that tore through Gauri's chest on the night of September 5, killing her instantly.
All three bullets were 7.65mm (non-prohibited bore) bullets.
All three must bear the markings of the Khadki Ordnance Factory in Pune, India's only such facility.
But that's where the SIT has hit a brick wall. While all bullets, manufactured from Khadki are supplied to legitimate firearms dealers across the country, it also enters the huge grey market from where anyone - with or without a license for a gun - can acquire these bullets. These bullets cannot be traced back to the buyer or seller. One, because of the sheer volumes that are sold, and the second, because the 'manufacturing lot number and date' would not be inscribed on the shell casings, thereby, making it impossible to track the procurer or the vendor.
If Gauri Lankesh's killer wanted to procure the bullets be it for a country made weapon or a branded gun the legitimate route would have been the handful of gun dealers in Bengaluru city either from City Market, Majestic or Upparpet which sell firearms and bullets to licensed gun owners. The alternative route is accessing the grey market for the 7.65mm bullets sold by gun owners themselves which is used in most hired killings and other heinous crimes because of the growing criminal nexus between individual firearms licensees and criminals.
The common link so far in the four sensational high profile murder cases; of Pune-based rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, Kolhapur resident CPI leader Govind Pansare, Dharwad resident and rationalist M.M. Kalburgi and Bengaluru-based journalist, editor and activist Gauri Lankesh is that the perpetrators in all three killings had used 7.65mm bullets to finish their 'targets.'
“As of now the ballistic similarity in the four cases is limited to the use of 7.65mm bullets, but there is no evidence that the killers had used the same country weapon in all the four murders because the weapons have not been found. The one weapon, which was said to be used in Dabholkar murder, was seized by the Maharashtra ATS. How was it then used in the other cases?” an officer on condition of anonymity stated.
The 7.65mm bullets are manufactured for supply to legitimate firearms and dealers at the Khadki Ordnance Factory in Pune and have been found to be widely used for the country weapons as criminals have not been able to clone bullets for their illicit firearms.
“The misuse of 7.65mm bullets clearly indicates the criminal nexus between individual firearms licensees and criminals. It is a non-prohibited bore, which should be sold only under licence to private individuals. We don’t find rampant misuse of prohibited bores like 9mm (pistol), .380 (revolver) or 7.62 calibre (rifle) in sensational murder cases because these are only provided to uniformed forces and are not available to a private individual licensee,” said a well known ballistic expert, who didn't wish to be named.
“Underhand dealings of prohibited ammunition are not easy even though there are country made weapons, which can use non prohibited bore cartridges. The market, therefore for the 7.65mm bullets is bigger than that of the country made weapons,” he added.
The ammo from Khadki is sold to licit firearms, dealers and individuals. They are in turn sold in the grey market by the individual firarms licensees to the arms mafia at a demand price.
“There is neither a quota on how many bullets an individual licensee can purchase from a licensed arms dealer nor are there any records of how the bullets will be used. While the licensed dealer mentions in the buyer's licence the number of bullets he has sold to him, nobody questions how, when and what these bullets were used for,” the expert said.
“If bullets were stolen, then there should have been a state and national data or police complaints on how many 7.65mm bullets have been stolen but there is no comprehensive data. The First Information Reports (FIRs) are registered only when spent cartridges with the marking -'KF7.65mm' - of these bullets have been found at the scene of crime,” added the ballistic expert.
He said that country-made weapons and misuse of 7.65mm bullets started in Bengaluru around 2005. “Sometime between 1997 and 2000 Mumbai police had raided a house in HAL police station limits and seized a huge cache of country made firearms, which were reportedly supplied from underground factories in Madhya Pradesh and Punjab. After the raids, the trend in use of firearms in criminal activities changed in Bengaluru. Before that, criminals mostly used smuggled weapons like .38 revolvers, 9mm pistols, Mauser rifles, 7.62 Tokarev pistols. The latter were nicknamed 'star' pistol by the City police because it had the image of star embossed on either sides of the grip,” said the officer.