HC issues orders on deposit of firearms during polls

Published - May 17, 2024 12:17 am IST - MANGALURU

While strictly prohibiting district authorities from issuing blanket orders demanding deposit of firearms from all licence holders during polls, the Karnataka High Court has said that such blanket orders not only contravene the specific directives issued by the Election Commission but also fail to address the nuanced risks associated with individual licence holders.

In a detailed directions on a batch of petitions filed by farmers living on fringes of forests in Bantwal and Sullia taluks of Dakshina Kannada questioning the orders issued for deposit of firearms in light of the Lok Sabha elections, Justice Sachin Shankar Magadum said in a recent order that authorities have to take cognisance of vulnerable communities who often face wildlife induced damage to crops and livestock. The district screening committee has to adopt nuanced and evidence-based approach. They have to strike a balance between maintaining law and order during elections and protection of rights of vulnerable communities staying on fringes of forest.

The committee has to demonstrate flexibility regarding surrender of firearms by taking into account not only the individual circumstances of farmers and their specific threats faced at the hands of wild animals, but there has to be an overall assessment of that region which is often affected due to interaction between wild animals and losses incurred by farmers. Authorities cannot expose individuals vulnerable to threat to life. All directions and communications regarding deposit or any other direction related to firearms should be in written form.

Before commencement of elections, the Judge said, authorities should conduct a rigorous screening process of firearm licence holders. This process should prioritise individuals with history of criminal offences. The police stations should keep record of individuals charged in offences related to rioting during elections.

The Election Commission shall provide clear and comprehensive guidelines outlining responsibilities and duties of police officials in conduct of pre-election screening. The Commission should compile and publish a user friendly guide before election summarising key instructions and procedures for officials. It should monitor implementation of directives by securing reports from all district magistrates. A comprehensive review should be conducted after every election to evaluate the implementation of Commission’s directives.

“Rather than resorting to mass withdrawal of firearms, authorities should adopt a targeted approach based on individual risk assessments,” the Judge and added “by adhering to these guidelines, authorities can ensure a fair, transparent and accountable process that maintains integrity of electoral system while respecting the rights of firearm license holders.”

The Judge in the order on April 25, 2024 quashed the orders issued by Dakshina Kannada Deputy Commissioner on March 18 and March 26 against the petitioners.

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