1. This writ petition has been filed with a prayer for a mandamus directing the respondents to consider the petitioner's application for grant of a license for a Revolver, and to issue him the said license under the Arms Act, 1959. On 17-2-1993, I had granted three weeks' time to the Learned Standing Counsel for filing counter affidavit.but as yet no counter affidavit has been filed. Hence I am treating the allegations in the petition to be correct and am disposing of the petition finally.
2. I have heard Shri Namwar Singh, Learned counsel for the petitioner, and Learned Standing Counsel.
3. The petitioner applied for a license for a Revolver on 27-6-1990 for his personal security as well as security of his property. A true copy of the said application is Annexure-1 to the petition. The petitioner has stated that he is a peace loving citizen with good antecedents, and he has never been involved in any offence. He owns a bus under a valid permit, a factory, and landed property. He claims that he needs the Revolver for the security of his life and property. In para-3 of the petition, it has been stated that the District Magistrate called for a report from the authorities including the Sub-Divisional Officer concerned. The Sub Divisional Officer, after, calling for a report from the Tehsildar, gave a report in favour of the petitioner. The District Magistrate also called for a report from the police. A true copy of this report is Annexure-3 to the petition. In this police report it is mentioned that there is nothing to show that the petitioner has any criminal antecedents, yet grant of licence was not recommended, without assigning any reason. In paragraph 5 of the petition it is stated that as yet no order has been passed on the petitioner's application for license for his Revolver. In para 7 of the petition, it is stated that there is nothing on the record to disentitle the petitioner from grant of license for a revolver. Aggrieved against the inaction of the respondents, this writ petition has been filed.
4. In my opinion, the right to carry arms for self-defence is a part of Article 21 of the Constitution, and hence the petitioner is entitled for grant of the licence. To substantiate this view I would like to discuss the matter at some length.
5. Before the British came to India the situation in our country was that in almost every house there were some arms. Possession of arms was regarded as a sign of dignity andself respect. Even today in our country in many communities on dussehra day arms are worshipped, which is symbolic of the respect given to arms in earlier times.
6. The Mahabharat, which is the longest and greatest of the epics of the whole world, is full of the use of arms. Thus, Arjun goes to divya-lok to get arms from the gods (which he subsequently used in the Mahabharat War). Thus, in our culture the value of arms for leading a life of self-respect and dignity has been accepted.
7. When the British came to India they had to face armed resistance from the feudal kings. Due to their technological and organisational superiority they gradually overcame this resistance and spread their rule in India. It was only after putting down the Mutiny of 1857 that the British decided to disarm the Indian people. Having been shocked by the sudden, widespread uprising against them they decided that to avoid such revolts in future they must (1) disarm the Indian people (2) divide the Indian people. This policy was implemented so effectively that up to 1947 there was hardly any singi-ficant militant uprising against them.
8. The first comprehensive arms legislation in India was Act 28 of 1857 enacted on 11-9-1857. This Act was a temporary measure, and it only regulated the import, manufacture, sale, possession and use of arms for two years. It was passed when the Mutiny was still going on, and it was a hurriedly drafted law with the obvious aim of seeking to put down the revolt. The Act of 1857 was replaced by Act 31 of 1860. This later Act differed from the 1857 Act in two important respects (1) it provided for the disarming of any State, district or place and made it unlawful for any one in any disarmed state, district or place to possess Arms and ammunition without licence (2) it prohibited the purchase of arms and ammunition from unlicensed persons.
9. On 1-10-1878 Act 11 of 1878 came into force. This was mainly a consolidation of the earlier law with some alterations. It provided for a stricter regulation of the importation,transport and posession of arms and ammunition.
10. Finally, the present Arms Act of 1959 was enacted which came into force on 1-10-1962. The Arms Rules, 1962 were promulgated on 1-10-1962, and they repealed the earlier rules.
11. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Arms Act, 1959 reads as follows :--
'The Indian Arms Act, 1878, was intended to disarm the entire nation. Even after independence, the law declaring 'swords daggers, spears, spear-heads, bow and arrows' as 'arms' has been allowed to continue unaltered on the statute book. The rigours of the Arms Act and rules thereunder continue to make it difficult for law abiding citizens to possess firearms for self-defence whereas terrorists, dacoit gangs and other anti-social or anti-national elements are using not only civilian weapons but also bombs, hand-grenades, Bren-guns, Sten-guns, 303 bore service rifles and revolvers of military type, for perpetrating heinous crimes against society and the State.
12. The Indian Arms (Amendment) Bill (No. 49 of 1953) was introduced by the undersigned in the Lok Sabha on the 27th November, 1953 to focus Parliament's attention on this vital subject. It was discussed in the House on 26th March, 1954 and was circulated for public opinion.
13. Opinions were received from all the State Governments which contained not only their own views but also those of many legal luminaries, Bar Associations, Judges, Collectors, Senior Police Officers and local Bodies of their respective States. On the basis of those opinion, this Bill has been drafted.
14. The objects of this Bill are :--
(a) to exclude knives, spears, bows and arrows and the like from the definition of'arms'.
(b) to classify firearms and other prohibited weapons so as to ensure -
(i) that dangerous weapons of military patterns are not available to civilians, parti-cularly anti-social elements;
(ii) that weapons for self-defence are available for all citizens under license unless their antecedents or propensities do not entitled them for the privilege; and
(iii) that firearms required for training purposes and ordinary civilian use are made more easily available on permits;
(c) to co-ordinate the rights of the citizen with the necessity of maintaining law and order and avoiding fifth-column activities in the country;
(d) to recognize the right of the State to requisition the services of every citizen in national emergencies. The licensees and permit holders for firearms, shikaris, target shooters and rifle-men in generalfin appropriate age groups) will be of great service-to the country in emergencies, if the Government can properly mobilise and utilise them' -
Gaz. of Ind. 20-2-1959, Pt. II-S.2, Extra p. 107.
15. Since the avowed object of the 1959 Act (as mentioned in the Statement of Objects and Reasons) is to do away with the British policy or keeping the Indian nation disarmed, we must give an interpretation to the provisions of the said Act which is in conformity with the above object. However, the unfortunate fact is that the authorities often interpret the 1959 Act as if it is not materially different from the 1878 Act, and hence applications for arms licences are as readily and arbitrarily rejected as before.
16. The position in our country today is that unfortunately the law and order enforcing authorities are not providing adequate protection to the citizens. The result is that the decent, respectable and law abiding citizens are defenceless if a gangster or cirminal enters their house with a weapon, or accosts them elsewhere. If such criminal enters one's house with a weapon he can loot the entire property there, dishonour the women, and do as he pleases because an unarmed person cannot be reasonably expected to put up resistance against a person carryinga gun or revolver. If, on the other hand, one has a revolver or pistol with him he can put up resistance against such criminals. In my opinion if the Arms Act is interpreted in the manner indicated hereafter by me crimes will go down and will not go up as some people think. In these days the situation is that the criminals are armed with licenced or unlicensed guns, whereas the law abiding citizens are not easily granted an arm's license, and thus they are at the mercy of the criminals.
17. The situation in the country today is that law and order has deteriorated to a very great extent. Mafia type gangs have established a reign of terror in many cities, and violence, kidnapping and extortion are rampant . Some parts of the country are terrorist infested, and even in other parts hoodlums with country made weapons are on the rampage. Peaceful and law abiding citizens are often afraid to stir out of their houses after dark or to go to certain places. The recent murder of the entire family of a Doctor in Allahabad whose throats were cut is a glaring example of the prevailing situation in which peaceful and law abiding citizens are placed. When we intrepret an Act we must take into consideration the existing social conditions and we cannot interpret it in a hyper technical or highly abstract manner which has no connection with the existing social reality. Hence in my opinion the correct interpretation of Sections 13, 14 and 15 of the Arms Act is that every application for a non prohibited weapon must normally be allowed, and this must be done within three months of filing of the said application. If the application is rejected, this must be done only in very exceptional cases for good reasons recorded in writing and communicated to the applicant within three months of the application.
18. The view I am taking will make the provisions of Sections 13 to 15 in conformity with Article 21 of the Constitution.
19. Article 21 states 'No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.'
20. in my opinion the right to bear arms isembedded in Article 21 of the Constitution, and hence it is a fundamental right. No doubt this right, like all fundamental rights, is subject to reasonable restrictions, but the reasonability of the restriction must be judged from the point of view of the prevailing social conditions, and not in the abstract. Hence what may have been reasonable earlier may no logner be reasonable today.
21. The early decisions of the Supreme Court took a narrow view of Article 21. In the leading case of A. K. Gopalan v. State of Madras : 1950CriLJ1383 , it was held that the words 'procedure established by law' in Article 21 are not to be given the, vide and fluid meaning of the expression 'due process of law' in the U.S. Constitution, but means only State made statutory law. It was held there in that Articles 19 and 21 are mutually exclusive, and hence the reasonability test in Article 19 is not to be applied when construing a law from the point of view of Article 21, and as long as there was some statutory law which prescribed a procedure for depriving a person of his life or liberty it meets the requirement of Article 21. Thus Article 21 was construed as a guarantee against executive action unsupported by law.
22. The view in Gopalan's case (supra) continued till it was overruled in R. C. Cooper v. Union of India : 3SCR530 . Thereafter in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India : 2SCR621 and in a series of subsequent decisions the Supreme Court has spectacularly widened the scope of Article 21 (and also Article 14), and it is now settled that (1) Though Article 21 is couched in negative language, it confers positive rights to life and liberty, vide Unni Krishnan v. State of A.P. : 1SCR594 . (2) The word 'life' in Article 21 means a life of dignity as a civilised human being and not just animal survival, vide Francis Coralie Mullin v. Administrator : 1981CriLJ306 , and (3) the procedure for depriving a person of his life or liberty must be reasonable, fair and just, vide Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation : AIR1986SC180 .
23. Thus Article 21 includes within its scope :
1. The right to free education up to the age of 14 years, vide Unni Krishnan v. State of A.P. (1993 AIR SCW 863) (supra).
2. The right to livelihood, vide Olga Tellis : AIR1986SC180 (supra).
3. The right to speedy trial, vide Husainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary : 1979CriLJ1036 .
4. The right to bail without economic restrictions (ibid).
5. The right to free legal aid to the poor, vide Husainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary : 1979CriLJ1045 .
6. The right to humane treatment in prison vide Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration : 1978CriLJ1741 and Sunil ,Batra (II) v. Delhi Administration : 1978CriLJ1741 .
7. The right not to be handcuffed, fettered, or put in solitary confinement (ibid).
8. The right to live with dignity, vide Francis Coralte Mullen (AIR 1981 SC 746) (supra).
9. The right against custodial violence vide Sheela Barse v. State of Maharashtra : 1983CriLJ642 .
10. The right to shelter, vide Sontistar Builder v. Narayan Khimalal Totame : AIR1990SC630 .
11. The right against unauthorised intrusion into the home, vide Kharak Singh v. State : 1963CriLJ329 .
12. The right of effective appeal, vide M. H. Hosket v. State of Maharashtra : 1978CriLJ1678 .
24. From a perusal of these judgments, it is evident that the scope of Article 21 has been considerably widened by the Supreme Court, and what is more important is that a firm basis has been created for further judicial activism in this field.
25. In this connection it is necessary to point out that when our Constitution was being made the Constitutional Adviser Mr. B. N. Rau visited America and met Justice Felix Frankfurter, the renowned Judge of the U. S, Supreme Court, to seek his advice. Justice Frankfurter advised that the 'due process' clause in the American Constitution (vide 5th and 14th Amendments) had created a lot of difficulties in America as it was a vague and fluid expression. Hence he advised that there should not be any 'due process' clause in the Indian Constitution. It may be mentioned that the 5th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution states: 'No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of Law' and there is a simitar provision in the 14th Amendment.
26. During the course of the deliberations in our Constituent Assembly the Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights recommended that the following clause should be incorporated in our Constitution. No person shall be deprived of his life or liberty without due process of law' (vide Cosntituent Assembly Debates P. 854). However, the Drafting Committee substituted the words 'except according to procedure established by Law' for the words 'without due process of law.' The reason given by the Drafting Committee for this change in the words was that the expression 'due process of law' is not specific, while the substituted language, taken from the Japanese Constitution, was more certain.
27. Thus we see that the 'due process' clause was specifically and deliberately excluded from the Constitution by the Constitution makers, and this fact was noted in A. K. Gopalan's case : 1950CriLJ1383 (supra). However, in Sunil Batra v. Delhi Admn. : 1978CriLJ1741 , Krishna Iyer, J. held that after the decisions in R. C. Cooper's case : 3SCR530 and Maneka Gandhi's case : 2SCR621 (supra) the due process clause must be deemed to be ingrained in Article 21. No doubt in Air India v. Nergesh Meerza : (1981)IILLJ314SC there are some observations to the contrary (in a 3 Judgebench decision) but these have been made without noticing the series of decisions on Article 21 (mentioned above), beginning from Maneka Gandhi's case (which is a 7 Judge Constitution Bench Decision), and hence these observations have to be either treated as per incuriam or restricted to mean that the 'due process' clause cannot be utilized in our country to invalidate laws infringing freedom of contract. (It is well known that the U. S. Supreme Court had at one time struck down several laws infringing freedom of contract, particularly some of the Neal Deal Legislation of President Roosevelt, on the ground that they violated the 'due process' clauses in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments).
28. It may be mentioned that 'due process' is of two kinds procedural due process, and substantive due process. Procedural due process means that no one can be deprived of his life, liberty or property except in accordance with the procedure laid down in the statutory law. Substantive due process means that this procedure (for depriving a person of his life, liberty or property) must be fair, just and reasonable. Thus, while on a literal interpretation Article 21 only embodies procedural due process, by judicial interpretation it has been held to include substantive due process also. Thus, in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab : AIR1982SC1325 , the Supreme Court held that 'the concept of reasonableness runs through the entire fabric of the Constitution' (vide para 16), and also 'every facet of the law which deprives a person of life or personal liberty would therefore, have to stand the test of reasonableness, fairness and justice in order to be outside the inhibition of Article 21' (vide para 16).
29. In Maneka Gandhi's case : 2SCR621 (supra) the Supreme Court observed (vide para 56): 'The principle of reasonableness which legally as well as philosophically is an essential element of equality or non-arbitrariness pervades Article 14 like a brooding omnipresence and the procedure contemplated by Article 21 must answer to the test of reasonableness in order to be in conformity with Article 14.'
30. I may clarify that I am not resting mydecision on the 'due process' clause. Even independently of the 'due process' clause the same conclusion-can be reached on the basis of the decision in Maneka Gandhi's case and other decisions of the Supreme Court on Articles 14 and 21. I have referred to the due process' clause only to point out that substantive due process means (so far as life and liberty is concerned) almost the same thing which has been said in Maneka Gandhi's case, namely, that the procedure depriving one of his life or liberty must be fair, just and reasonable.
31. Before, I now go into the question whether Article 21 should be held to include the right to bear arms I would like to mention that there are two theories regarding interpretation of a Constitution. These are the mechanical and the organic theories. The mechanical method of interpretation of a Constitution was most authoritatively laid down by the U. S. Supreme Court in Dred Scott v. Sandford, (1857) 19 How 393, 426 (US) wherein Chief Justice Taney said that 'the Constitution must be construed now as it was construed at the time of its adoption.' in Norman v. Baltimore, (1934) 294 US 240 Brewer J. declared that the meaning of the Constitution never alters-- 'that which it meant when adopted it means now.'Thus the mechanical method requires that in interpreting a Constitutional provision we should try to put ourselves in the shoes of the founding fathers of the Constitution and should seek 'to read their minds and gather their intention. For this purpose we should read the Constituent Assembly Debates and look into other contemporaneous material to gather the intent of the Constitution makers.'
32. However, it is now universally accepted that the organic method of interpretation is to be preferred to the mechanical method (vide The Fourteenth Amendment, Ch. 2, edited by Bernard Schwarz).
33. The organic method requires us to see the present social conditions and interpret the Constitution in a manner so as to resolve the present difficulties. The social conditions existing at the time when the Constitution was made may be very different from the presentconditions, and hence if we interpret the Constitution from the angle of the Constitution makers we may arrive at a completely outdated and unrealistic view. As Justice Marshal observed in Mcculloch v. Maryland, (1819) 4 Wheat 316 (US). 'This provision is made in a Constitution, intended to endure for ages to come, and consequently to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs.'
34. Thus, according to the organic (or dynamic) method the principles of interpretation of the Constitution are to some extent different from the principles of interpretation of a statute, and this is because a Constitution is meant to endure for a long time.
35. The Indian Supreme Court, particularly in recent times, has been following the organic method. Thus in Francis Coralie Mullin v. Administrator (AIR 1981 SC 746) (supra). The Supreme Court observed (at p. 752 of AIR) :
While arriving at the proper meaning and content of the right to life, we must remember that it is a constitutional provision which we are expounding and moreover it is a provision enacting a fundamental right and the attempt of the Court should always be to expand the reach and ambit of the fundamental right rather than to attenuate its meaning and content. The luminous guideline in the interpretation of a constitutional provision is provided by the Supreme Court of United States in Weems v. U. S., (1909) 54 L Ed 793 (801):
Legislation, both statutory and constitu-tional, is enacted, it is true, from an experience of evils, but its general language should not, therefore, be necessarily confined to the form that evil had therefore taken. Time works changes, brings into existence new conditions and purposes. Therefore, a principle, to be vital, must be capable of wider application than mischief which gave it birth. This is peculiarly true of Constitutions. They are, to use the words of Chief Justice Marshall, 'designed to approach immortality as nearly as human institutions can approach it.'The future is their care, and provisions forevents of good and bad tendencies of which no prophecy can be made. In the application of a Constitution, therefore, our contemplation cannot be only of what has been, but of what may be. Under any other rule a Constitution would indeed be as easy of application as it would be deficient in efficacy and power. Its general principles would have little value, and be converted by precedent info impotent and lifeless formulas. Rights declared in the words might be lost in reality. And this has been recognised. The meaning and vitality of the Constitution have developed, against narrow and restrictive construction.
This principle of interpretation which requires that a constitutional provisions must be construed, not in a narrow and constricted sense, but in a wide and liberal manner so as to anticipate and take account of changing conditions and purposes so that the constitutional provision does not get atrophied or fossilized but remains flexible enough to meet the newly emerging problems and challenges, applied with greater force in relation to a fundamental right enacted by the Constitution. The fundamental right to life which is the most precious human right and which forms the ark of all other rights must therefore be interpreted in a broad and expansive spirit so as to invest , it with significance and vitality which may endure for years to come and enhance the dignity of the individual and the worth of the human persons.'
36. Similarly, in Unni Krishnan's case (1993 AIR SCW 863) (supra) the Supreme Court (in para 163) quoted with approval the following observation of the Court in Pathumma's case : 2SCR537 . 'The attempt of the Court should be to expand the reach and ambit of the fundamental rights rather than accentuate their meanings and content by process of judicial construction. Personal liberty in Article 21 is of the widest amplitude.' in the same decision (in para 164) the Court quoted the following observation of the U. S. Supreme Court in Missouri v. Holland, (1919) 252 U.S. 416 'When we are dealingwith words that also are constituent act, like the Constitution of the U.S., we must realize that they have called into life a being the development of which could not have been foreseen completely by the most gifted of its begetters.'
37. As a matter of fact, the vast expansion of the scope of Articles 14, 19 and 21 by the Supreme Court in the last 20 years or so itself proves that our Supreme Court has adopted the organic (or dynamic) approach. And this is very appropriate, since Courts must apply the law to flesh and blood, and not dry bones. Today our country is facing gigantic problems, social, economic and political, and unless a dynamic and activist approach is adopted the judiciary will be living in an ivory tower unconnected with reality.
38. Having discussed the expanded scope of Article 21 we may now take up the question in issue. Does Article 21 include the right to bear arms?
39. In the U. S. Constitution there is a specific provision stating that citizens have the right to bear arms. This is Article 2 in the Bill of Rights (which was introduced by the First Amendment to the Constitution in 1791). This Article states 'A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.'
40. There is no similar specific provision in the Indian Constitution. However, as we have seen above, many rights which have not been specifically provided in the Constitution, have been read into Article 21 (or Articles 14 and 19) by judicial interpretation.
41. The State of U. P. v. Jaswant Singh Sarna : AIR1968All383 , it was observed 'It must be remembered that the Indian Arms Act, 1878, was enacted in an age when the British Government had only some years before quelled a massive uprising which had threatened to remove British power from the country altogether, and when considerations of military ascendancy and law and order were paramount in the consolidation of British rule in India. This legislation held sway over the country during the entire periodof foreign rule. The order of things was completely changed when India attained independance and began to be governed under a Constitution which guaranteed to a free people a body of rights described as fundamental. The Arms Act 1959 reflects the constitutional change, and a schematic analysis of the enactment will at once demonstrate the contrasting liberalism so noticeably absent from the Act of 1878.'
42. In the aforesaid decision the right to possess non-prohibited firearms was held to be part of Article 19(1)(f) i.e. the right to property. This decision was delivered in 1968 when the narrow view of Article 21 laid down in Gopalan's case : 1950CriLJ1383 (supra) was prevalent. Now, in view of the subsequent decisions on Article 21, it is not necessary to take recourse to Article 19.
43. In Kailash Nath v. State : AIR1985All291 a 5 Judge Full Bench decision of this Court held that grant of an arms licence is a privilege and not a right. The Court observed 'no doubt a citizen may apply for grant of a licence of firearms with the object of protecting his person or property but that is mainly the function of the State. Even remotely this cannot be comprehended within the ambit of Article 21 of the Constitution which postulates the fundamental right of protection of life and personal liberty. It deals with deprivation of life, and, as held in Gopalan v. State of Madras : 1950CriLJ1383 , Article 21 is attracted only in cases of deprivation in the sense of total loss and that accordingly has no application to the case of mere restriction to the grant of licence for possession and acquisition of firearms, which stands on an entirely different footing from the licence to carry on a trade or occupation.'
44. The aforesaid Full Bench decision of this Court was delivered in 1985, that is, long after Gopalan's case had been overruled by the Supreme Court in Cooper's case : 3SCR530 and Maneka Gandhi's case : 2SCR621 . It is hence not comprehensible how reliance could have been placed on Gopalan's case. The above observation, based on Gopalan's case, has hence to betreated as per incuriam.
45. In determining whether the right to bear firearms is part of Article 21 to the Constitution one has to see the present day conditions in the country. It seems that law and order is breaking down everywhere, and anarchy and chaos is becoming rampant.
46. If one picks up a newspaper, or puts on the T. V. or 'radio, most of the news is about violence and turmoil in some part of the country. There are murders, robberies, bomb attacks, etc. every where, and the life of a law abiding and peace loving citizen is fast becoming impossible. Even small time criminals arc armed with country made pistols and bombs, while the more 'sophisticated' ones are using kalashnikovs and AK-47. This state of affairs must be taken into account while construing Article 21.
47. In my opinion the right to carry non-prohibited firearms is part of Article 21 of the Constitution, for to hold otherwise would amount to keeping good and peace loving citizens defenceless while the criminals are well armed. This would be wholly arbitrary and unreasonable. In these days when law and order has broken down it is only an armed man who can lead a life of dignity and self respect. No criminal or grangster can dare to assault or threaten such a person for fear of retaliation. Since the word 'life' in Article 21 has been held by the Supreme Court to mean a life of dignity (as discussed above), the right to carry non-prohibited firearms must be deemed to be included in Article 21.
48. In my opinion liberal grant of arms licenses will reduce crimes, and not increase them (as some people imagine). The criminal will be afraid to attack law abiding citizens if the latter are armed.
49. In this connection I may mention that in the second World War, when Germany was about to attack Britain, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in one of his famous speeches said to the British people 'Arm yourselves, and be ye men of valour.' in other words, Churchill recognized the reality that an unarmed person cannot reasonably beexpected to be valourous when confrontedwith an armed criminal.
50. Some people apprehend that if there is liberal grant of armed licences arms will be passed on by the licencees to dacoits and other anti-social elements. This again is an unfounded apprehension. The criminals already have firearms today (whether licensed or unlicensed). It is the decent, law-abiding people who need arms to protect themselves.
51. Normally it is the duty of the State to protect the citizens. However, when the State authorities are not properly discharging their function what is to be done. In such a situation the only reasonable view can be that the citizens must defend themselves, and they can effectively do so only if they are armed.
52. In my opinion, the view which I am taking is a practical view for another reason. If a person wishes to commit a crime with a weapon he will ordinarily use an unlicensed weapon. This is because when shots are fired the chances are that the spent cartridge (or cartridges) will fall on the ground and this can be recovered by the police, and by noting the markings on the spent cartridge the particular weapon from which the bullet was fired can be; traced out. Hence when a person wishes to commit a crime he will in all likelihood use an unlicensed weapon because there are less chances of his being detected and apprehended. Hence also Applications for arms licences should normally be allowed so that people can carry licenced firearms rather than unlicensed ones, so that they can be traced out incases of misuse.
53. The matter can also be examined from the point of view of the doctrine of reasonable or legitimate expectation which has recently been adopted by our Supreme Court following the decision of the House of Lords in Council of Civil Service Unions v. Minister for Civil Service, (1984) 3 All ER 935. This doctrine was applied in F.C.I. v. Kamdhenu Cattle Feed Industries : AIR1993SC1601 , where it was held that there is a reasonable expectation in the highest bidder in an auction that his bid will be accepted, and if it is not accepted the authorities must show that their action is not arbitrary.
54. In Navjyoti Co-operative Group Housing Society v. Union of India : AIR1993SC155 it was held that the Group Housing Societies were entitled to legitimate expectation of following the consistent past practice of allotment on the basis of the date of registration, and the authorities could not override the legitimate expectation without some overriding reason of public policy and without giving opportunity of hearing.
55. In my opinion the doctrine of reasonable and legitimate expectation need not be restricted to following consistent past practice, and we can extend the doctrine. In the cases of applications for an arms licence the applicant has a reasonable and legitimate expectation to get the licence considering the fact that (1) in the prevailing conditions in India Law and order is fast deteriorating, and the authorities are not giving adequate protection to the citizens (2) the Arms Act, 1959 was specifically made to liberalize the 'policy of grant of arms licences in view of the fact that India was a free country and no longer subject to British rule.
We may now examine the relevant provisions of the Arms Act, 1959, Section 2(c) of the Act defines a firearm as follows :--
' 'Firearms' means arm of any description designed or adapted to discharge a projectile or projectiles of any kind by the action of any explosive or other forms of energy, and includes.'
Under Section 2(i) 'prohibited arms' means-
'(i) firearm so designed or adapted that if pressure is applied to the trigger missiles continue to be discharged until pressure is removed from the trigger or the magazine containing the missiles is empty, or
(ii) weapons of any description designed or adapted for the discharge of any noxious liquid, gas or such other thing and other such things and includes..... such other arms asthe Central Government may by notification in the Official Gazette specify to be prohibited arms.'
56. Section 3 states 'no person shall acquire, have in his possession, or carry any firearm or ammunition unless he holds in this behalf a licence issued in accordance with the provisions of this Act and the Rules made thereunder.....'
57. Section 7 prohibits acquiring, possessing or transferring prohibited arms except with the authority of the Government.Sections 13 to 15 state as follows :--
'13. Grant of licences.-- (1) An application for the grant of a licence under Chapter II shall be made to the licencing authority and shall be in such form, contain such particulars and be accompanied by such fee, if any, as may be prescribed,
(2) On receipt of an application, the licencing authority shall call for the report of the officer incharge of the nearest police station on that application and such officer shall send his report within the prescribed time.
(2-A) The licencing authority, after such enquiry, if any, as it may, consider necessary, and after considering the report received under sub-section (2), shall subject to the other provisions of this chapter, by order in writing either grant the licence or refuse to grant the same :
Provided that where the officer-in-charge of the nearest police station does not send his report on the application within the prescribed time, the licencing authority may, if it deems fit, make such order, after the expiry of the prescribed time, without further waiting for that report.
(3) The licencing authority shall grant: --
(a) a licence under Section 3 where the licence is required-
(i) by a citizen of India in respect of a smooth bore gun having a barrel of not less than 20 inches in length to be used for protection or sport or in respect of a muzzle loading gun to be used for bona fide crop protection:
Provided that where having regard to the circumstances of any case, the licencing authority is satisfied that a muzzle loading gun will not be sufficient for crop protection the licencing authority may grant a licence in respect of any other smooth bore gun as aforesaid for such protection; or
(ii) in respect of a point 22 bore rifle or an air rifle to be used for target, practice by a member of a Rifle Club or Rifle Association licenced or recognised by the Central Government;
(b) a licence under Section 3 in any other case or licence under Section 4, Section 5, Section 6, Section 10, or Section 12, if the licencing authority is satisfied that the person by whom the licence is required has a good reason for obtaining the same.
14. Refusal of licences.-- (1) Notwithstanding any thing in Section 13, the licencing authority shall refuse to grant-
(a) a licence under Section 3, Section 4 or Section 5 where such licence is required in respect of any prohibited arms or prohibited ammunition;
(b) a licence in any other case under Chapter II (i) where such licence is required by a person whom the licencing authority has reason to believe-
(1) to be prohibited by this Act or by any other law for the time being in force from acquiring, having in his possession or carrying any arms or ammunition, or
(2) to be of unsound mind, or
(3) to be for any reason unfit for a licence under this Act, or
(ii) where the licencing authority deems it necessary for the security of the public peace or for public safety to refuse to grant such licence.
(2) the licencing authority shall not refuse to grant any licence to any person merely on the ground that such person does not own orpossesses sufficient property.
(3) where the licencing authority refuses togrant a licence to any person it shall record in writing the reasons for such refusal and furnish to that person on demand a brief statement of the same unless in any case the licencing authority is of the opinion that it will not be in the public interest to furnish such statement.
15. Duration and removal of licence.--(1) A licence under Section 3 shall, unless revoked earlier, continue in force for a period of three years from the date on which it is granted:
Provided that such a licence may be granted for a shorter period if the person by whom the licence is required so desires or if the licencing authority for reasons to be recorded in writing considers in any case that the licence should be granted for a shorter period.
(2) A licence under any other provision of Chapter II shall, unless revoked earlier, continue in force for such period from the date on which it is granted as the licencing authority may in each case determine.
(3) Every licence shall, unless the licencing authority for reasons to be recorded in writing otherwise decides in any case, be renewable for the same period for which the licence was originally granted and shall be so renewable from time to time and the provisions of Sections 13 and 14 shall apply to the renewal of a licence as they apply to the grant thereof.'
58. In my opinion the aforesaid provisions in the Arms Act, 1959 must be construed in the light of Art. 21 of the Constitution of India and also the avowed object of the Act to do away with the British policy of keeping the Indian people disarmed.
59. Article 21 is part of the Constitution, I have already held that the right to bear arms (i.e. non-prohibited firearm) is part of Article 21 of the Constitution, Hence, any provision in the Arms Act, 1959 which unreasonably infringes this right will be unconstitutional.
60. It is a settled principle of interpretation that if two views are possible, and if one view makes a statutory provision unconstitutional while the other view makes it constitu-tional, then the latter should be preferred. Hence, we should construe the provisions of the Arms Act in a manner that they became in conformity with Article 21 of the Constitution.
61. The most important provision in the Arms Act in the matter of grant of arms licence are Section 14(1)(b)(i)(3) and Section 14(1)(b)(ii) (quoted above).
62. As regards Section 14(1)(b)(i)(3), unfitness for a licence is vague expression. However, considering the provisions in the light of Article 21 of the Constitution it must be held that the normal rule should be grant of the arms licence, and refusal on the ground of unfitness should only be for very strong reasons e.g. Involvement in a heinous crime, and the same principle should apply in respect of cancellation or suspension of a licence.
63. Very often arms licences are refused o'r cancelled or suspended on arbitrary or untenable grounds. For example, sometimes an arm licence is refused on the ground that there are already some arms licences in the village and hence it would not be expedient to grant any more licences to people of that village. This is wholly arbitrary and illegal, since existence of some licences in the village can hardly be a reasonable ground to deny one a licence. In fact, it would amount to creating a monopoly in favour of existing licencees.
64. Similarly, sometimes arms licences are suspended/cancelled on the ground of involvement in a petty crime like Sec. 323, 324 or 325, I.P.C. or proceeding under Section 107/117 or Section 145, Cr. P. C. This again is not a valid ground for impounding/cancelling or refusing to grant an arms licence. It is only where one is accused of a heinous crime or is a hardened criminal that such action can be taken.
65. Even in cases of heinous crimes a note of precaution must be struck. Very often persons are falsely implicated, and hence the authority must consider all the relevant facts carefully before refusing, suspending or can-celling the licence. Also, it often happens (particularly in villages), that to kill a personwho has a licensed weapon a false first information report is first filed against him, and then on the basis of this false first information report he is deprived of his licence and made to surrender his gun, and then being unarmed he is killed.
66. I am informed that in one case there was fight between two armed groups in a village. In the first group of five persons there were two persons who had licensed arms, while the other three had no arms. The three unarmed persons in this group were killed in this fight, while in the second group (of 5 or 6 persons) one person was killed. The authorities suspended the licences of the two persons in the first group who had licenced arms (and who alone had survived in the fight), while no action was taken to delicence and disarm the members of the second group. In my opinion, this action of the authorities was wholly arbitrary as it would make the two remaining members of the first group easy targets for attack by the members of the second group.
67. Hence, in my opinion, even in cases of involvement in heinous crimes (like Section 302 or 396, I.P.C.) the authorities should examine the full facts, and not straightway and mechanically refuse, suspend or cancel the licence. The authorities must see all the relevant circumstances, including the fact whether' refusing/suspending/cancelling the licence would endanger the life of the person, particularly in cases of party-bandi.
68. In my opinion even without taking recourse to Article 21 it has to be held that on a correct interpretation of the Arms Act, 1959 a citizen of India has a right to bear arms.
69. Section 14(1)(b)(i)(3) states that an application for an arms licence can be refused if the licensing authority has reason to believe that the applicant is unfit for a licence. Now the word 'unfit' is vague, and hence it calls for judicial interpretation.
70. In Sub-Committee of Judicial Accountability v. Union of India : AIR1992SC320 the Supreme Court quoted with approval the following observation ofLord Halsbury in Eastman Photographic Maternal Co. v. Comptroller General, LR (1898) AC 571:
'My Lords, it appears to me that to construe the statute in question it is not only legitimate but highly convenient to refer both to the former Act and to the ascertained evils to which the former Act had given rise, and to the later Act which provided the remedy. These three being compared I cannot doubt the conclusion.'
71. This was, in fact, a reiteration of the well known Heydon's mischief rule, which states that in interpretation we should see the mischief which is sought to be removed by the new law.
72. In the Sub-Committee case : AIR1992SC320 (supra) the Supreme Court also quoted with approval the following observations in B. Prabhakar Rao v. State of A. P. : AIR1986SC210 'where internal aids are not forthcoming we can always have recourse to external aids to discover the object of the Legislation. External aids are not ruled out. This is now a well settled principle of modern statutory construction, Thus 'Enacting History' is relevant. The enacting history of an Act is the surrounding corpus of public knowledge relative to its introduction into Parliament as a Bill, and subsequent progress through, and ultimate passing by, Parliament..... Committee reports, Parliamentary debates, policy statements and public utterances of official spokesmen are of relevance in statutory interpretation.'
73. Among the external aids to interpretation is the Statement of Objects and Reasons. In State of H.P. v. K. C. Mahajan : 1SCR917 the Supreme Court observed that the Statement of Objects and Reasons can be looked into for the limited purpose of understanding the background and State of affairs leading up to the Legislation. In Administrator, Municipal Corporation v. Dattatraya : AIR1992SC1846 the Supreme Court observed that 'The mechanical approach to construction is altogether out of step with the modern purposive approach.'
74. Keeping in mind these principles of interpretation we must interpret the provisions of the Arms Act 1959 from the point of view of the mischief which was sought to be remedied. The mischief in the old British made Law (the Arms Act of 1878) as mentioned in the Statement of Objects and Reasons (quoted earlier) was that since it was intended to disarm the Indian people its rigour had made it difficult for law abiding citizens to possess fire arms for self-defence, whereas terrorists, dacoit gangs were using not only civilian weapons but also bombs, hand-grenades, bren guns, sten guns etc. for perpetrating heinous crimes against society and the State.
75. The most important difference between the 1959 Act and the 1878 Act, to my mind, is that the former makes a distinction between prohibited arms and non-prohibited arms, while in the latter there is no such distinction. In my opinion the correct interpretation of the Arms Act, 1959 is that under its provisions an application for a prohibited arms is not to be ordinarily allowed, whereas an application for a non-prohibited arm is ordinarily to be allowed. Such an interpretation will be in consonance with the Statement of Objects and Reasons, as well as the prevailing social conditions. Hence the word 'unfit' in S. 14 must be interpreted to mean that the applicant for some exceptional and strong reason has disqualified himself from holding a licence e.g. If he is a hardened criminal or is involved in heinous crimes, otherwise all applications for licences for non-prohibited arms must be allowed.
76. The interpretation I am taking is also in consonance with Ss. 96-106, IPC. which give the right of self defence. Thus S. 97 states 'Every person has a right, subject to the restrictions contained in S. 99, to defend-
First -- His own body, and the body of any other person against any offence affecting the human body Secondly-The property, whether moveable or immoveable, of himself or of any other person, against any act which falls under the definition of theft, robbery, mischief or criminal trespass or which is an attempt to commit theft, robbery mischief or criminal trespass.'
77. Now the right of self-defence must be an effective right. How can it be effective when a law abiding citizen is unarmed while the criminal is armed with a country made pistol or gun (if not a kalashnikov or AK-47)? Hence on a reasonable interpretation of Ss. 13 and 14 of the Arms Act, 1959 read with Ss. 96-106, IPC it follows that an Indian citizen has a right to bear non-prohibited arms,
78. As regards prohibited arms it appears that the policy underlying the Act of 1959 was that since these are ordinarily used by members of the Armed Forces or Police, and since these are weapons of attack (unlike non-prohibited arms which are ordinarily for defence) they should not be readily made available to the public for reasons of security and law and order. However, 'attack' and 'defence' are relative terms, and it may be that in certain areas (e.g. terrorist affected areas) for self-defence it may be necessary to possess prohibited arms. Section 7 makes it clear that there is no absolute prohibition against giving a licence for a prohibited arm, and whenever such an application is made the concerned authority must consider all the relevant circumstances and must not act arbitrarily in disposing of the application.
79. It has come to my knowledge that the authorities often give licences valid only for a particular district. This again is arbitrary. A person needs protection wherever he goes, and it is not that once he goes out of his district he is safe.
80. As regards S. 14(1)(b)(ii) I am of the opinion that words 'public peace' or 'public safety' do not mean ordinary disturbance of law and order. Public safety means safety of the public at large, and not safety of a few persons only. Hence a licence cannot be refused/suspended/cancelled or its renewal refused merely because there is an ordinary breach of law and order.
81. The distinction between 'law and order' and 'public order' is well known vide State of U.P. v. Hari Shanker Tiwari : 1987CriLJ840 and Gulab Mehra v. State of U.P. : 1988CriLJ168 . In my opinion theexpressions 'public peace' and public safety inS, 14 of the Arms Act have the same meaningas 'public order'under S. 3(2) of the NationalSecurity Act.;
82. We may now consider the facts of the present case. In the present case the petitioner applied for an arms licence in June, 1990 and he has stated that he has good antecedents and he needs a licence for his personal security and security of his property. In my opinion, there was no good reason to withhold grant of licence to him. The inaction of the respondents was clearly arbitrary and violative of Art. 21 of the Constitution.
83. In the circumstances, the writ petition is allowed and a mandamus is issued to the respondents to issue an arm's licence to the petitioner for which he has applied within two weeks of production of a certified copy of this judgment before the respondent No. 1. A general mandamus is also issued to all concerned authorities that whenever any application for licence under the Arms Act is made the same must be processed and decided within three months, and the normal rule must be grant of the licence in the case of non-prohibited firearms, and refusal should be the exception and for strong reasons to be recorded in writing after giving opportunity of hearing to the applicant, and such reasons for rejection must be communicated to the applicant within three months of the applica-tion. The licence should also be normally not restricted to the district or State except for special reasons to be recorded in writing and communicated to the applicant.
84. I am further of the opinion that whenever an application for a licence for a non-prohibited arm is made, and it is not disposed of within 3 months, it will be deemed to have been allowed on the expiry of 3 months. It is necessary to make this direction because the experience of this Court is that often directions are given by it to dispose of an application within a specified period yet the application is not disposed of and then either a contempt petition or another writ petition has to be filed, causing further delay, expense and harassment to the applicant. No doubt there is no provision in the Arms Act or Rulesstating that if the application is not disposed of within a specified period it will be deemed to be allowed, but this does hot mean that the licensing authority can sit tight over the matter for long periods.
85. In Triplex Industries v. State of West Bengal : (1992)2CALLT475(HC) it was held that even though there is no express provision to that effect in the Calcutta Municipal Act or Rules, an application for sanction to construct a building will be deemed to be allowed on the expiry of two months from the date of the application. The reason given in this decision is that one has a common law right to construct on his own land. In my opinion an application for an arms licence stands on a higher footing than an application for permission to construct since the right to bear arms is a fundamental right (as I have held) and not a mere common law right. Hence the application will be deemed to have been allowed on the expiry of 3 months, for to hold otherwise would mean that the applicant should get killed while waiting to get his application disposed of. If an application is pending on the date of this judgment it will be deemed to be allowed on the expiry of 3 months from the date of this judgment, unless disposed of earlier.
86. Some of the observations I have made above may amount to judicial legislation. However, it is recognised today that Judges also legislate. The 19th Century notions of positivist jurists like Bentham and Austin have been replaced in the 20th Century by sociological jurisprudence which permits legislative activity by the judiciary. In this connection reference may be made to the --recent Constitution Bench decision of the Supreme Court in Sarojini Ramaswamy v. Union of India : AIR1992SC2219 of the said decision the following observation of Pathak, J. In Union of India v. Raghubir Singh : 178ITR548(SC) have been quoted with approval :
'It used to be doubted that Judges make law. Today it is no longer a matter of doubt that a substantial volume of the law governing the lives of citizens, and regulating thefunction of the State flow from the decisions of the Superior Courts. 'There was a time' observed Lord Reid, 'when it was thought almost indecent to suggest that Judges make law, they only declare it..... But we do not believe in fairy tales any more.'
87. Order accordingly.