An expert committee constituted by the Union Home Ministry to find alternatives to pellet guns for use in Kashmir has zeroed in a string of irritants as replacement, including pepper balls and tear gas shells with enhanced potency. According to an Indian Express report, 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 are not very sure 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 are also called PAVA shells. The name ‘PAVA’ stands for Pelargonic Acid Vanillyl Amide, also called Nonivamide, and is a organic compound found characteristically in natural chilli pepper. On the Scoville scale (the degree to measure the power of chilli), PAVA is categorised as “above peak” meaning it will severely irritate and paralyse humans, but in a temporary fashion. It is also used as a food additive to add pungency, flavouring and spicy effect to food. Another alternative to pellet guns include ‘Tear Smoke Shell with Soft Nose’ which does not give serious injury to protestors when hit directly and its plastic body starts melting immediately on landing with emission of the smoke making it difficult to pick and throw away.
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,” a CRPF officer said.