Possession of Live Cartridge Without Corresponding Weapon Not Deemed Offense Under Arms Act, Rules Kerala High Court

In a recent ruling, the Kerala High Court declared that the possession of a live cartridge without the accompanying firearm does not constitute an offense under the Arms Act. The court’s decision stemmed from a case where a businessman from Maharashtra, holding a valid arms license within his state, was found with a single live cartridge during a security check at Kannur Airport.

Justice Bechu Kurian Thomas, while elaborating on Section 25 of the Arms Act pertaining to the possession of firearms, emphasized the requirement of “conscious possession” involving a mental element. Mere custody without knowledge or awareness of the possession cannot be deemed an offense under the Act. The court further noted that even if a person does not physically possess the firearm but has power or control over it, their conscious possession is established.

The petitioner in this case maintained that he was unaware of how the live cartridge ended up in his bag. Despite his claims, an FIR was registered against him, alleging offenses under Sections 3 and 25(1B)(a) of the Arms Act. Advocates representing the petitioner argued that he lacked conscious possession of the ammunition, given his clean criminal record and valid arms license. They contended that a single live cartridge without a corresponding firearm constituted minor ammunition, protected under Section 45(d) of the Act, thereby not constituting an offense.

The court examined the definitions of “ammunition” under Section 2(1)(b) and Section 25(1B)(a) of the Act. Referring to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Gunwantlal v. State of Madhya Pradesh (1972), the court underscored the need for intention, consciousness, or knowledge to establish possession of a firearm as an offense. The possession could be physical or constructive.

Based on these considerations, the court concluded that possession of a firearm under Section 25 of the Act required a mental element. In the present case, since no corresponding firearm was recovered and only a single live cartridge was found, the absence of conscious possession and intention to possess were evident. Without animus possidendi, an offense under Section 25 of the Act could not be established.

The court also highlighted that witness statements did not support the prosecution’s claim of conscious possession of the live cartridge by the petitioner. Moreover, no firearm was found in the petitioner’s possession or that of any other passenger. Consequently, the court deemed the prosecution against the petitioner an abuse of the court process and quashed the case.

The ruling brings clarity to the interpretation of possession under the Arms Act, emphasizing the requirement of conscious possession and intention. It serves as an important precedent regarding the possession of live cartridges without the corresponding firearms, ensuring the protection of individuals who may inadvertently come into possession of such ammunition.

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