THE ANTIQUATED British era .303 rifle and .410 musket were retired by the Mumbai Police last month. The rifle that the Mumbai Police started using soon after the World War I had become synonymous with the constabulary. However, after the 26/11 terror attacks proved that the rifle was no match to the highly sophisticated weaponry used by the terrorists, a decision was taken to phase out the firearm. The rifle will now be replaced by the Self Loading Rifle (SLR).
Police historian Deepak Rao said the .303 weapon, with a range of 1,200 yards, had been introduced by the then British government soon after World War 1. “The firearm was primarily used for policemen deployed for guarding banks, government offices and courts. As has been the tradition, the rifles were used by the lower rung constabulary while pistols were used by the top rung police officers,” Rao told The Indian Express.
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He added that the musket was used primarily to disperse crowds as it fired pellets that could at the most injure someone but no one would be fatally wounded by it. “In earlier times, when there a need for crowd dispersal, the armed police would go for ‘pellet shower bath’, an effective ploy in crowd dispersal,” Rao said.
Over a period of time, said a senior officer, the challenges faced by the Mumbai Police changed, and along with it the need for newer weapons was felt. “In the late ‘90s, one saw the Mumbai underworld using imported firearms to instill fear in the city. In the next decade, the city fell victim to terror attacks where terrorists were armed with automatic weapons like AK-47. Post 26/11, there was a feeling of urgency considering our constables armed with the .303s had to face the might of the automatic weapons. A .303 has to be loaded manually after every shot fired, thereby making it a time-consuming affair in comparison to the AK-47s, which can be used to spray bullets,” said the officer.
A Mumbai Police constable said while they had been used to the antiquated rifle and its height, they were thankful that they would not need to carry the heavy firearm on their shoulders any more. “Even in our training, there were particular salutes, where a .303 was used. It has been a tradition and we will definitely have an emotional attachment to the firearm,” said the constable. He added, “However, to think of it practically, we definitely needed advanced firearms to combat emergency situation like the 26/11 terror attacks. Also, it was quite tiresome to carry the .303 around since it was heavy.”
In several Western countries, said Rao, the .303 firearm had been retired decades ago and in the current day and age it would be no more than a weapon for a “ceremonial function”.