In the fortnight since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have fired as many as 2,102 pellet cartridges in the Valley to disperse protesters.
The Sunday Express has learnt that over 50 per cent of the 317 people, who sustained pellet injuries, have been hit in the eye.
The use of pellet guns by CRPF is second only to tear smoke shells which have been fired over 4,500 times. The CRPF has ten mandated non-lethal weapons for use in different situations.
Other non-lethal weapons used by CRPF in the Valley include plastic pellet guns, rubber bullets, stun grenades, multi-button shells, blank rounds, pepper balls and capsicum grenades. All have been used in the recent protests.
Pellet guns, CRPF sources said, continue to remain the most effective weapon against stone-pelters. The personnel maintain pellet guns are a wall between injury and certain death for protesters. As many as 1,099 CRPF men have been injured in stone-pelting incidents in the last fortnight.
“If there were no pellet guns, we would be using real guns as happened in 2010. There would be far more deaths and injuries. Given the kind of violent mobs security forces are facing in the Valley, there is little option among the available weapons. And therefore, the pellet guns,” a senior CRPF officer said.
CRPF Director General K Durga Prasad, while expressing concern over civilian injuries, said: “They are the last resort for us. Only after all non-lethal options are exhausted, pellet guns are used. But we are pained to see the blindings and injuries to young people. We are looking at how we can minimise the damage.”
CRPF sources said that pellet guns are most effective because the cartridge contains hundreds of small pellets which spread out after being fired and cover a large part of the crowd. Plastic cartridges, on the other hand, fire just three plastic pellets while rubber bullets are for target firing.
There is a peculiar problem with tear smoke shells. “If the wind is not favourable, it will blow away from the crowd without much impact. Protesters also have become smart over the years. They throw back the shells towards us, forcing us to retreat,” a CRPF officer said.
Similarly, pepper balls and capsicum grenades (cause severe burning sensation) are best suited for targeting small crowds in alleys and lanes.
There is no such problem with pellet guns. “They also cause prolonged physical pain, forcing the injured to retreat. Earlier, forces used No. 4 pellets which are bigger in size. But injuries caused by them were potentially fatal. We have now shifted to No. 9 pellets and occasionally use No. 8 pellets,” the officer said.
Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for use of non-lethal weapons and training of men who fire them has been a cause of concern. CRPF sources maintain that the SOP prepared by Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) has no mention of pellet guns.
But SOPs are followed only with proper training, which has been an issue with CRPF. With elections in five states this year and unrest in Haryana and UP, all training companies of the force have been pushed into active duty. “Inadequate training of troops is a perennial problem. Every battallion in CRPF has a training company on rotation. But this year most of them have been on active duty,” said the officer.
“We have our own SOPs. We have to ensure that pellets guns are fired from a distance of at least 50 metres and are aimed at boots. Also, in a group of 20 CRPF men, only three carry pellet guns. The rest carry other non-lethal weapons,” another CRPF officer said.
Protective gear for the personnel is another problem. While all CRPF men have protective gear for law and order duties, those deployed in the Valley have better equipment given the volatile nature of the region.
“So when extra troops have to be rushed in, they are drawn from other states or training companies. They do not have the same gear as those already deployed in the Valley. This leads to greater injuries among force personnel. When they get injured, they fire back in defence,” a CRPF officer said.
There are 47 battalions of CRPF deployed in Srinagar and the Valley. Since the protests began, an additional 50 companies (of 100 men each) have been sent to the Valley.
The CRPF is also looking at the use of Condor guns used by UN peacekeeping forces. The guns fire spherical rubber pellets which cause painful bruises. “Other non-lethal weapons are also under consideration. The MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) committee formed to assess use of non-lethal weapons will also look at these alternatives,” the officer said.
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