This article has been authored by Bhavika Mittal, pursuing BA LLB from DES’s Shri Navalmal Firodia Law College, Pune, affiliated with Pune University. This article discusses Section 3 and 25 of Arms Act, 1959. It further talks about the punishment given upon contravening the provisions of the section mentioned above.
Table of Contents
Article 21 of the Constitution, under its purview, guarantees the right to live safely, and the Indian Penal Code, 1860 protects the right to private defence. This indicates that the citizens are permitted to take any action to safeguard their bodies and property via any means. Well, this doesn’t stand absolutely true because there are exceptions everywhere, especially in law. Yes, individuals have the right to protect themselves, but owning and using imminently dangerous weapons can lead to civil rebellions, which would contravene the purpose of the law.
To prevent such a society from disrupting acts, the Arms Act, 1959 was enacted. This central legislation does not aim to impose a complete ban on arms usage but rather sets conditions for the same. As George Washington had said, “Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself,” an absolute prohibition on arms and ammunition is somewhat out of the question. Thus, the act, similar to any substantive law, provides rules and punishments entailing it. This article discusses one such offence under the Arms Act of 1959, but mainly the punishment prescribed for the offence.
All about the Arms Act of 1959
It was after the first battle of independence that the Arms Act was introduced in India. The Indian Arms Act of 1878 was enacted by Britishers; the act prohibited the possession of arms by Indians unless permitted by the British Crown.
The Act of 1878 was later replaced by the Arms Act of 1959, the provisions of which are currently applicable throughout India.
The scope of the Arms Act 1959 includes governing and regulating the purchase, manufacturing, possession, import, export, sale, and transportation of arms and ammunition. The Act, just like any other substantive law, lays down the penalties and punishments imposed upon contravention of its provisions.
Over the course of years, rules that are supplementary to the Act and amendments have been incorporated in accordance with contemporary times. For instance, the Arms Rules of 1962 lay down the rules for possessing a firearm or ammunition and rules for certain specific situations.
Next, with the Arms (Amendment) Act, 2019, wherein the number of people who possess arms has been reduced, the punishments have become more stringent.
Under all the rules and acts related to arms, being a valid licensee is a vital condition that needs to be fulfilled for conducting any activity regarding arms or ammunition. The provision of holding a valid licence and the offence committed upon contravention of such provision, along with the punishment, have been discussed further.
Section 3 of the Arms Act
Section 3, titled “Licence for acquisition and possession of arms and ammunition,” has been provided under Chapter II of the Arms Act, 1959. The Section mainly comprises elements of Section 13 and Section 14 of the previous Act, the Arms Act 1878.
Section 3 of the Arms Act of 1959 prescribes rules for legally holding a firearm or ammunition.
The Section explicitly states that no individual without a licence issued in conformity to the provisions of the Act shall-
- acquire, or
- have in possession, or
any firearm or ammunition as defined under clause 9 (b) and (e) of Section 2(1), Arms Act, 1959.
However, if a person
- has a written authority, or
- possesses a firearm or ammunition in the presence of the licence holder.
This type of possession or carrying of firearms is legally valid.
Moreover, a licence holder is prohibited from acquiring, possessing, or carrying more than two firearms. But before the amendment inserted by Act 48 of 2019, the quantity limit on firearms was three.
Further, dealers, rifle clubs, or associations are exempt from the limitations of possessing two firearms.
Conclusively, individuals are strictly prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition without a licence, apart from those in the presence or with the written permission of the licence-holder. The licensed individual can possess only two firearms, but those holding and conducting businesses, international medalists, and renowned shooters are exempt from the limit on quantity.
In Rajat Yadav v. State of U.P. and two others (2021), the Allahabad High Court dismissed the writ petition filed against the order of the licensing authority. The High Court upheld the decision of the licensing authority not to grant an arms licence to the petitioner. In the instant case, the petitioner was a grain merchant and had applied for an arms licence in 2020 and 2021.
However, the petitioner’s applications were denied, and the arms licence was not granted. The licensing authority based its rejection on the fact that the petitioner does not face any imminent threat to his life or property, as reflected in the police inquiry reports.
Further, the petitioner didn’t fall under any category required to be entitled to an arms licence, like holding an office, discharging various office functions that entail life threats, etc. To this, the petitioner questioned the reasoning by calling it arbitrary and illegal, but the High Court held that protecting an individual and his or her property is the duty of the state.
Every individual cannot be entitled to an arms licence unless faced with a genuine threat. Additionally, holding an arms licence is not a right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution, as decided by the Apex Court of India in various judgements. Therefore, the licence under Section 3 of the Arms Act, 1959, is granted only after thorough research.
This Section is crucial to the Act. It deters civil rebellions by limiting the possession of firearms and ammunition by many Indians. The penalty imposed and punishment given upon contravention of Section 3 of the Arms Act, 1959, has been mentioned under Section 25 of the Arms Act, 1959.
Section 25 of the Arms Act
The second last chapter of the Arms Act, 1959, Chapter V, titled “Offences and penalties” contains Section 25, titled “Punishments for certain offences”, prescribes punishment for contravening the provisions laid down under Section 5, Section 6, Section 11, Section 7, Section 4, Section 12, Section 3, and other sections of the Arms Act, 1959. Thus, most of the offences committed under the Arms Act of 1959 are punishable under this Section.
The above mentioned sections and others are bifurcated into ten sub-sections and further into clauses, wherein the penalty and punishment to be imposed are prescribed. For instance, Section 25(1) includes Section 5, Section 6, and Section 11 and contravention to these provisions leads to imprisonment of not less than seven years and may extend to life imprisonment. While under Section 1(A), the punishment is varied, and similar is the case under different sub-sections.
In Mursalim Shaikh and Others v. State of West Bengal (2011), the petitioner and his accomplice were armed with a dagger, chisel, and pistol. They had stopped a rickshaw by force and demanded valuables from the travellers. They extorted the valuables and fled. Later, the petitioner was caught, and the pistol in his possession was found to be illegal. The Additional Session Judges, Jangipur, had convicted them under Section 25 of the Arms Act, 1959, and other relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. In the instant case, the petitioner appealed in the Calcutta High Court for the dismissal of the order, but the Court dismissed the appeal, and conviction under Section 25 of the Arms Act, 1959 was upheld as the petitioner had no valid reason for possessing the weapon.
The punishments range from a minimum of six months to life imprisonment, either simple or rigorous imprisonment. It can safely be deduced that the punishments and penalties imposed are diverse under the Section; this depends upon the nature of the offence committed.
For instance, breaching the provisions of the Arms Act, 1959, namely, acquiring, having in possession, or carrying firearms and ammunition without a licence, is an offence committed under Section 3 and Section 4 of the Arms Act, 1959. Since the objective of this article is to elucidate punishment under Section 3/25 of the Arms Act, we shall discuss the same hereafter.
Essentials of Section 3 and 25 of the Arms Act
From the brief explanation of Section 3 and Section 25 of the Arms Act of 1959, it can easily be said that these are the two most important Sections of the Arms Act of 1959. The stringent rule of compulsory licence and the punishment granted upon contravention prevent life-threatening violent situations. Thus, the sections overlap at the juncture of the offence and consequently punish the wrongdoer.
Further, in order to bring an action under the Section, the prosecution has to prove:
- That the article is a firearm or ammunition,
- that the accused had in his possession, or acquired it or carried the incriminating article, and
- that such acquisition, possession or carriage of the article was in question without a licence issued in accordance with the rules and provisions of the Act.
In Jagjeet Singh v. State of Rajasthan (1999), the police, upon receiving a piece of secret information, set out to arrest the petitioner, but the petitioner, upon seeing the police officials, started running. However, the police apprehended the accused petitioner. The police personnel searched and found in his possession a 32-bore pistol without a licence. Taking due consideration of the facts, the petitioner was charged under Section 3/25 of the Arms Act, 1959.
The three conditions to bring an action under the Section were proved by the prosecutor, and the petitioner was sentenced to one year’s rigorous imprisonment with a fine of rupees two hundred and a default of one month’s simple imprisonment. The Rajasthan High Court dismissed the petition against the judgement pronounced by the Trial Court, and the Court upheld the punishment and penalty imposed.
Punishment under Section 3/25 of the Arms act
A plain reading of Section 25 (1B), Arms Act, 1959, states that noncompliance with the provisions of Section 3 is punishable under the section. So, where all the required criteria are fulfilled, the convict will be punished with the following:
- imprisonment for two years, which may extend up to five years, and
- be liable to a fine.
But before Act 48 of 2019 inserted the above-mentioned provisions, the criminal wrongdoer was sentenced to imprisonment for one year, which may extend up to three years. However, under certain special circumstances and if the court deems it adequate, a sentence of fewer than two years can be imposed.
In Vishwanath Gaonkar v. State (2012), the High Court of Judicature at Bombay, Panaji bench, upheld the Additional Sessions Judge’s decision of holding the accused guilty and convicted of the offence under Section 3 read with Section 25 (Section 3/25) of the Arms Act, 1959. But the sentence of rigorous imprisonment of one year and a five thousand rupee fine imposed by the Sessions Judge was modified. The accused had already undergone rigorous imprisonment of five months; the Bombay High Court held that rigorous imprisonment was part of the period already undergone by the accused. Additionally, the accused shall pay a fine of rupees five thousand and undergo the default simple imprisonment of three months. The facts of the case are such that the exception to the punishment under Section 3/25 was imposed, as the court deemed the facts and circumstances to have special and adequate reasons.
Bhairon Singh and Anr v. State of Rajasthan, (2009)
In Bhairon Singh and Anr v. State of Rajasthan (2009), the accused-appellants were found to be in possession of one 315-bore rifle, 25 live cartridges, one country-made pistol, and one empty cartridge by police officials. In the instant case, the accused attempted to run away from the police officials, and during that tussle, the two miscreants fired at the police, but the shot was missed. Upon arrest, the above-mentioned firearms were recovered without any valid licence. The police registered the case under Section 307, Section 323, Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and Section 3/35 of the Arms Act, 1959. However, only the charge under Section 353 IPC was maintained by the learned Rajasthan High Court. There was no proof or witness to confirm whether the arms used by the appellants were serviceable or not.
Thus, the Rajasthan High Court upheld the verdict passed by the Trial Court that the acquittal of the accused-appellants for the offence under Section 3/25 Arms Act, 1959, is valid. Thus, the conviction was set aside on the grounds of the non-working condition of the recovered pistol. A similar judgement was pronounced by the Supreme Court in Merambahi Punjabhai Khachar v State of Gujarat, (1996).
State of Rajasthan v. Ram Kailash alias Ram Vilas (2016)
In the State of Rajasthan v. Ram Kailash alias Ram Vilas (2016), the respondent, from a moving motorcycle, fired at the deceased with a pistol, also travelling on a motorcycle. Upon identifying the wrongdoer, a case under various IPC sections was filed, and Sections 3/25 and 3/27 of the Arms Act, 1959. The Additional Sessions Judge, Nagpur, sentenced the accused under the various IPC Sections, and under Section 3/25 Arms Act, the accused was sentenced to three years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of rupees two thousand and, in default, to undergo one month’s simple imprisonment.
The accused, aggrieved by this decision, filed an appeal in the High Court of Rajasthan, where the punishment under IPC sections was reduced. However, as the pistol used to fire at the deceased was possessed by the accused without a licence, the punishment under Section 3/35 Arms Act was held valid. The State of Rajasthan presented an appeal to the Supreme Court, aggrieved by the judgement of the Rajasthan High Court. Here, the appeal was against the reduced punishment, and the sentence under Section 3/25 Arms Act, 1959, remained untouched as the requirements to sentence an individual under the Section were fulfilled.
It is an undeniable fact that the use of arms and other weapons is a necessity for certain individuals. But at times, this requirement leads to misusing these life-threatening weapons. Also, the illegal possession of firearms is a possibility that needs to be controlled and regulated. Under its purview, the central legislation of the Arms Act 1959 includes such concerns.
The legislation, through Section 3, ensures that no individual, without a genuine reason or as prescribed under the Act possesses any firearm or ammunition. If found, breaching the provisions of the act, Section 25 prescribes punishment for the offence. So, Section 25 can be referred to as supplementary to Section 3. Conclusively, the sentence under Section 3/25 Arms Act curbs deadly conflicts and safeguards the third party.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is meant by ammunition as per the Arms Act?
In a general sense, ammunition means the number of bullets or shells. Section 2(1)(b) defines ammunition as ammunition of firearms and states that ammunition includes the objects coming out of rockets, guns, bombs, tubes, other explosive objects etc.
What is the meaning of a firearm?
Section 2(1)(e) of the Arms Act, 1959, defines a firearm as something that projectiles any explosive or similar energy. It could include pistols, weapons, hand grenades, machinery for manufacturing firearms etc.
Is it possible to get bail under Section 3/25 of the arms act?
The offence under Section 3/35 Arms Act is a bailable offence. Hence, getting bail under Section 3/25 of Arms Act is possible.
- Saxena and Gaur’s Arms and Explosives, 8th edition.
- Malik’s commentary on Law of Arms and Explosives, 2nd edition.
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