Government appears all set to ban the use of pellet guns in the coming days. Home Minister Rajnath Singh has already announced the government's intent on the issue.
"In 2010, it was said pellet gun is a non-lethal weapon which can cause least damage but now we feel there should be some alternate to this," he said.
As per media reports, a seven-member expert panel, comprising officers from Ministry of Home Affairs, Border Security Force, Central Reserve Police Force, Jammu and Kashmir Police, IIT-Delhi and the Ordnance Factory Board are exploring whether PAVA shells, a chili-based non-lethal munition which temporarily incapacitates the targets and renders them immobile can replace the pellet guns. These shells have reportedly been developed by the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research (IITR), Lucknow under the CISR, and a demonstration of PAVA shells at a CISF range was reportedly held earlier this week.
PAVA can be expanded to Pelargonic Acid Vanillyl Amide (also called Nonivamide), an organic compound found in natural chili pepper. When fired, PAVA shells burst and temporarily stun, immobilise and paralyse the target in a more effective way than a tear gas shell or pepper sprays, and also can be used in combination with stun and tear shells. Other alternatives discussed by the panel included: ‘stun grenades’ already in use which cause temporary blindness because of the flash when exploded; ‘dye marker grenade with irritant’ causing sensory trouble to the target and leaves dye mark on individual for easy identification, and; ‘tear smoke shell with soft nose’ which does not give serious injury when hit directly. The expert panel, as per reports, appears in favour of PAVA shells, and has recommended that the Tear Smoke Unit (TSU) of the BSF in Gwalior be tasked with bulk production of these shells. The final decision is, however, yet to be taken.
Non-lethal weapons (NLW) like pellet guns are used by police and Central armed police forces (CAPF), not by the Army who use real bullets only. Water canon has also been in use in the country but requires big vehicles which cannot be deployed everywhere in Jammu and Kashmir. So it is for the police and the CAPF to decide what should replace the pellet gun. If it is to be the PAVA shells, the determinants should be: what the is the maximum range it can be fired; what is the efficacy of the chili powder in an open area in windy and calm conditions; how many shells would need to be fired to control a big or medium sized crowd; what would be the effect on security personnel if they are in close proximity to the attackers especially if the wind is blowing in the direction of the security personnel; what measures can the attacking individual or crowd can take by way of covering/shading his/her eyes to negate/reduce the effect of PAVA; will the security forces need to adopt similar measures, and what is the stopping power of PAVA vis-à-vis pellet gun against a frenzied crowd?
It is reiterated that all these must be examined in relation to the stopping power of the pellet gun which is directly compared to the PAVA, which may not stop the attackers, especially a bigger crowd. This is essential for the safety of the security personnel and not to facilitate crowds getting into hand-to-hand scuffle to snatch the weapons of security personnel and cause them body harm. As for stun grenades, these are more effective in closed areas (like other NLW grenades) and when dark.
Other countries have been using ‘tear gas’ effectively for crowd control despite this falling under purview of the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. It is doubtful if our government will use it, which is indicated by the fact that the expert panel doesn’t appear to have considered it in the first place. But it is surprising that we are not considering ‘Skunk’ in use by Israel for effective crowd control past eight years.
‘Skunk’ sprays a liquid that produces terrible stench which takes days to wash off from the parts of body and clothing the liquid falls on. With our security cooperation and ties with Israel, it should be possible to acquire a couple of these off the shelf straightaway. It may be recalled that the CRPF had told the Jammu and Kashmir High Court recently that banning pellet guns can cause more fatalities if personnel are forced to fire live rounds in extreme situations when attacked in large numbers.
Pellet guns have been in use world over since the air guns arrived on the scene. Then you also have wooden bullets and rubber bullets as well. What has not been taken into consideration at all by the policy makers is that pellet guns were with Jammu and Kashmir Police and CAPF past few years and were effectively used a number of times much before the killing of Burhan Wani. This time pellet injuries are more because the attacking crowds have been bigger, more in numbers and more violent.
If People's Democratic Party leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig says that the situation in Kashmir Valley is on the verge of joining the global religious war, it is certainly a well planned strategy from across the border. The challenge today in Kashmir Valley includes to deal with not only the misguided but also who are pushing things covertly. More importantly, the Centre would do well to examine that while Pakistan is using aerial and artillery bombardment on its population periodically, it has forced India to go for banning pellet guns through well orchestrated information warfare.
Whatever decision the government takes, putting our police and CAPF at disadvantage would only aggravate the situation. Once PAVA is introduced, government should also be prepared for the next phase of information war flooding media with how chili powder is damaging eyes and eyesight of the ‘innocent’ individuals.
The author is a veteran Lt Gen of the Indian Army.