A committee formed to find alternatives to pellet guns being used to disperse protesters in Kashmir has suggested a string of irritants as replacement, including pepper balls and tear gas shells with enhanced potency. The use of pellet guns has been criticised for the severe nature of injuries inflicted on protesters.
Sources said the committee, which is yet to file its report to the Home Ministry, is likely to suggest use of synthetic oleoresin capsicum gas and a more potent tear gas apart from marker and stun grenades. These are non-lethal weapons which temporarily incapacitate people and are not likely to cause severe injuries.
But security forces deployed in Kashmir are not very confident of the efficacy of these alternatives. Sources said most have been tried out in the past, and occasionally used for crowd-control, but have not been found to be as effective as pellet guns.
“All these are effective in small, closed areas with the wind in your favour,” a CRPF officer said.
The CRPF, the main force dealing with protesters in Kashmir, has in the past year put many non-lethal weapons on trial. These include pepper balls, oleoresin capsicum grenades, CONDOR rubber pellets and FN303 guns.
Synthetic oleoresin capsicum grenades or shells are also called PAVA shells. PAVA stands for pelargonic acid vanillylamide and is more potent than natural oleoresin capsicum gas which is extracted from processed capsicum. It causes severe irritation and watering of eyes apart from a burning sensation on the skin. Its exposure to water causes greater irritation. This incapacitates the victim for a long period and forces him to leave the spot.
The committee has also suggested tweaking of tear gas shells and the gas to make it more potent, effective. At present, the forces are faced with a situation where protesters pick up tear gas shells and throw these back at them. To overcome this, shells are likely to be made of plastic so that they melt on being fired and cannot be picked up.
CONDOR rubber bullet guns that fire spherical rubber pellets have been widely used by UN peacekeeping forces but are most effective in controlling small crowds.
The FN303 uses compressed air to fire projectiles from a 15-round drum magazine. It is designed to incapacitate the target through blunt trauma without causing critical injuries since the projectile disintegrates on impact. The rear half of the shell can contain an irritating gas like the oleoresin capsicum or a permanent paint which will help identify suspects following a riot. Stun grenades emit strong light, incapacitating crowds for some time.
CRPF sources, however, said the efficacy of these weapons would be tested once they are used in the field. “We have fired close to 7,000 tear smoke shells and they have been ineffective. Pepper balls and oleoresin capsicum grenades work in small alleys with small crowds. All smoke-emitters are dependent on wind and space. If the space is large and the wind is not towards the crowd, they have little impact. Pellet guns are effective because they cause prolonged pain,” a CRPF officer said.