Two weeks after a high-level government committee approved new, less-lethal riot control technologies to check the violence in Kashmir, the Ministry of Home Affairs is yet to order acquisition of the equipment, government sources have told The Indian Express. The J&K Police and the CRPF are also yet to be formally notified of the committee’s recommendations, sources said.
Five people are reported to have been killed by police 12-gauge shotguns that fire No. 9 lead birdshot, and two more by teargas shells, since the report was finalised on September 1.
Birdshot is reported to have claimed over 25 lives, and left over 100 people with various degrees of permanent visual impairment since the protests began.
MHA officials did not respond to text and e-mail requests seeking a comment.
The slow progress in acting on the committee’s findings has raised fears that the recommendations could go the way of a similar 2010 effort, which was made after violence in Kashmir claimed over 100 lives.
Led by MHA Joint Secretary TVSN Prasad, the expert committee’s report — accessed by The Indian Express — calls on the government to acquire and deploy 12 kinds of riot-control technologies, ranging from drones to map crowd movements to better body armour for police. It also suggests futuristic technologies, like directed-energy systems that use microwaves to create a sensation of unbearable heat.
But the Centre has so far only supplied shells filled with the chemical irritant pelargonic acid vanillylamide, or PAVA, designed to be fired from traditional 38 millimetre teargas guns. The report says the shells, manufactured by the BSF, are intended to be used at ranges of 135±10 metres.
“It’s not accurate to cast the PAVA shells as some sort of substitute for shotguns,” a senior police officer in Kashmir said. “Cases of lethal fire have involved protesters posing a threat to police at short range. PAVA shells don’t address that situation at all.”
The report calls for police forces to be equipped for shorter-range engagement with other PAVA-based weapons, including a pneumatic .68-calibre pepper-ball system, which disintegrates on contact with hard targets at up to 30 metres. It also suggests the use of hand-held PAVA grenades. This equipment, however, has not been purchased.
Large parts of the report’s recommendations reiterate suggestions made by a task force set up in September 2010. For example, an expert sub-committee that worked with the 2010 task force also called for water cannon systems to be modified to work in narrow lanes. It also recommended teargas canisters with soft heads to avoid fatalities, new irritants and malodorants.
Kashmir police officials said that instead of these new technologies being inducted, their capabilities have degraded since then. For example, more than 100 Mahindra Rakshak armoured vehicles, which suffered engine damage in the 2014 floods, are yet to be repaired because the state government has been unable to procure replacement engines from the manufacturer.
“Lack of vehicles which keep personnel safe from stones and petrol bombs make them more likely to reach for the gun,” a senior police officer said.
The expert report says that “available anti-riot vehicles need to be further strengthened with capabilities of water jets, clearing roads of obstacles, providing adequate protection to personnel inside, protection from gunfire, fire, stones, petrol bombs, etc.”
It also calls for police to be “equipped with the appropriate body protection gear, helmets and riot shields”.
To aid crowd dispersal, the committee calls for the use of Skunk — a non-toxic malodorant used by police in the US and Israel, which is sprayed through a water cannon. Known for a smell described by one observer as “a mix between excrement and a decomposing donkey”, it repels crowds by inducing retching.