‘Trees for guns’ scheme launched for would-be firearms owners in India’s Punjab state

An unusual link has sprouted in India’s northern Punjab state in recent weeks: between obtaining a gun licence and planting trees.

Officials in the state’s Ferozepur district, 280 miles north west of New Delhi, said all gun licence claimants will now be required to submit selfies of themselves with 10 newly planted saplings along with their applications.

They will also have to present follow-on selfies four weeks later to prove that the plants were progressing well.

“Looking at the reducing forest cover in the state, we decided to make tree planting a compulsory requirement to obtain a gun licence,” district commissioner Chander Gaind told the Indian Express newspaper.

Punjabis, he said, are obsessed with guns, especially in Ferozepur’s border areas where insecurity is high.

As such, on World Environment Day on 5 June, the district authorities decided to link obtaining a weapons licence to an afforestation initiative.

“The tree planting scheme will add more saplings without any extra effort by the forest department," Gaind said, adding that the scheme would also be extended to those seeking a licence renewal every three years.

The selfies do not guarantee a gun licence, but mean that the authorities will look upon the applications ‘more favourably’, officials said.

The district commissioner’s office has received some 100 applications accompanied by selfies since the innovative order was passed, meaning in effect that 1,000 saplings have already been planted.  

Another 930 applicants who have previously applied for gun licences too would now also be required to plant 10 saplings each and submit selfies of having done so. This will add another 9,300 possible trees to the district’s overall tally.

Ferozepur has over 21,000 licenced weapons and receives around 500 applications each year. The majority are routinely rejected for a variety of security considerations.

Obtaining a gun licence across India is difficult, requiring extensive paperwork and detailed inquiries into the applicant’s background. Weapon imports too are banned, making local gun availability scarce. 

Meanwhile, with a mere 9.6 per cent of forest cover, the agriculturally advanced state of Punjab is far short of the country’s average tree density of around 20 per cent.

The expansion of the state’s highway network to keep pace with growing urbanisation and infrastructure development in the area over the past decade has also led to an inordinately large number of tree being cut down. Industrial units too have mushroomed in the state’s lesser developed parts, further contributing to deforestation. 

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