Mirchi grenades,smoke shell launcher Agni Varsha,pump action guns to spray rubber pellets and water canons these are part of the new arsenal for the West Bengal police to quell mass protests.
The state government has procured these non-lethal weapons to minimise human casualty while handling law and order problems.
The new acquisitions were packaged under the police modernisation scheme funded by the central government with a matching grant from the state government.
The state has procured 15 water canons at a cost of Rs 6 crore,around 200 Mirchi grenades,350 pump action guns and several Agni Varsha.
Mirchi grenades are hand grenades packed with chilli powder,which is essentially a non-lethal weapon used for crowd dispersal and riot control. Agni Varsha is a multi-barrel launcher with four launchers to charge smoke shells in sequence, said a police official.
According to state police officials,the move was fully backed by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee,who wanted deaths in police firing to be minimised.
After the Trinamool Congress government came to power,the state witnessed a spate of stone-pelting and brick batting incidents and mass protests in various districts. Protesters even braved lathi charge and tear gas shells,resulting in police firing. In the past year,there have been at least six casualties as a result of police firing to control unruly protests and several people have been injured.
The causalty figure,though much less than that in the earlier Left regime,had worried the new government led by Mamata,who urged the police to be more humane while dealing with mass agitations.
In one such incident,two villagers were killed in police firing in Magrahat in South 24 Parganas. DGP Naparajit Mukherjee immediately asked the district police not to carry firearms. Accordingly,constables on patrol duty in all 33 police stations of the district have stopped carrying .303 rifles. The DGPs order instructed all kinds of RT (radio telephone)/mobile/ patrolling duty officers to carry side arms and gas munitions/ rubber bullets. The order made it clear that in case firearms are required,senior officers would be deployed.
The move,police officials said,is also a fallout of the Union home ministrys directive to adopt a humane approach while dealing with public agitations,particularly after the government realised its high-handedness while dealing with stone-pelting youths in the Kashmir valley.
Among the new acquisitions,water canons are the most expensive. Colour will be added in the the vehicle-mounted canons with water storage tanks. When it is used,the coloured water will leave a mark on the protesters,helping in their identification later.
According to sources,a list of sensitive districts and areas has been prepared. Accordingly,the new weapons have been distributed to several police stations. We have distributed almost 70 per cent of the modern weapons. The water canons were sent to some areas in Malda and Asansol. The movement of these water canons is restricted to metal surface roads only, said a senior police official.
For interiors and remote areas,we have procured the Mirchi grenades,Agni Varsha and pump action guns,which will fire rubber pellets. These weapons will not cause serious injury. They will help us control mob violence more effectively, said a senior police official.