Private guards cannot hold arms without licence, SC told

Asked to explain the regulatory framework for private security agencies and use of firearms by their security guards in the wake of the gunfight that led to the killing of liquor baron Gurdeep Singh Chadha alias Ponty and his brother Hardeep in November last year, the Centre on Monday told the Supreme Court that such guards do not have any special rights to hold firearms without licence.

Referring to the Private Security Agencies (Regulation) Act, 2005, and the rules there under, the Home ministry said possession and use of arms and ammunition were governed under the Arms Act and "private security guards don't have any special dispensation in so far as acquisition or holding weapons is concerned".

The MHA's affidavit, however, conceded that no separate guidelines had been issued under the Act for governing the use of firearms by private security guards and in cases of independent and illegal use of firearms, the guards and not their agencies shall be held liable.

The SC had in November 2012 taken suo motu cognizance of media reports on the involvement of armed private security guards in the Ponty Chadha murder case. Asking the MHA to explain different aspects of security agencies, the court had said that it would specifically want to know if these guards were "just mercenaries" or were authorised to open fire under defined circumstances.

Responding, the MHA has said that the PSARA provided for necessary regulatory framework and except for two states and one Union Territory, all others had notified the regulations under this law. A private security guard has been defined under the Act as a person who provides security with or without arms.

While the controlling authority under the PSARA prescribed detailed classroom and field training, the MHA said training to handle and operate non-prohibited weapons and firearms is "optional". The Act lays down that a private security agency would require a licence, valid for five years. As per the affidavit, matters relating to possession of firearms shall be exclusively handled by the licensing authority under the Arms Act.

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