Firing should be resorted to only as a last option, and the police should use non-lethal means for crowd dispersal, a report of a committee headed by the Union Home Secretary that was asked by the Centre in September last to list the standard operating procedures to disperse unlawful assemblies with minimum force and collateral damage says.
The committee, comprising the Intelligence Bureau chief, Special Secretary (Internal Security), Directors-General of the Border Security Force and the Central Reserve Police Force, and State police chiefs of eight States, says firearms should only be used if less dangerous means are not available and only to the minimum extent necessary.
The observations in the report assume significance in the wake of Monday's firing incident in Kozhikode during a stir by activists of the Students Federation of India that turned violent.
The committee recommends “aiming only at the lower limbs of protesters to avoid injuring vital parts.” It lists non-lethal equipment, including electro-shock weapons such as tasers, ‘stingers,' dye grenades and ‘stink bombs,' that can be used to disperse unlawful assemblies.
Even the water cannon, the other indispensable police equipment, is not entirely effective. An 8,000-litre tank on truck-mounted water cannon runs out in eight minutes. Shells or grenades that have substances with greater irritant capacity must be tested on actual rioting mobs and not merely against volunteers.
It has also raised concerns over the use of other non-lethal technology such as plastic bullets. The committee has noted that the .303 version was tested in Kerala and found ineffective.
Norms in manual
The Kerala Police Manual, which has laid down step-by-step procedures to deal with unlawful assemblies, states that if the crowd fails to disperse after a lathicharge, the magistrate or the competent officer can order firing. A clear and distinct warning should be given to the crowd to inform it that firing will be resorted to. If the crowd still refuses to disperse, the order to fire can be given, it says.
The manual does not permit a warning shot in the air or firing over the heads of the crowd. An armed force should maintain a safe distance from a dangerous crowd to prevent being overwhelmed or increase the chances of inflicting heavy casualties. The aim should be kept low and directed at the most threatening part of the crowd.
Firing should cease the moment the crowd shows signs of dispersing. All help should be rendered to convey the wounded to the hospital. Police officers should not leave the scene of disturbance before satisfying themselves beyond reasonable doubt about the restoration of tranquillity.
An accurate diary of all incidents, orders, and action, along with the time of occurrence, should be maintained by the police. This includes an individual report by all officers involved in the firing. The number of fired cartridges and the balance of unfired cartridges should be verified to ensure that ammunition is accounted for.
Magistrate to decide
The manual says the police should secure the presence of a magistrate where it anticipates a breach of peace. The decision to use force and the type of force to be used is to be taken by the magistrate. Once the order for the use of force is given by the magistrate, the extent of force to be used should be determined by the senior-most police officer.
The extent of force used must be subject to the principle of minimum use of force. Use of force should be progressive and firearms must be used as a last resort if tear smoke and lathicharge fail to disperse the crowd.
Common tearsmoke that causes no bodily injury and allows recovery of affected persons should be used. When the crowd is large and the use of tearsmoke is likely to serve no useful purpose, the police may resort to lathicharge.
Clear warning of the intention to carry out a lathicharge should be given through a bugle or whistle call in a language understood by the crowd. If available, a riot flag must be raised. If the police officer in-charge is satisfied it is not practical to give a warning, he can order a lathicharge without warning.
As per the manual, lathi blows should be aimed at soft portions of the body and contact with the head or collarbone should be avoided as far as possible.
Keywords: Kozhikode police firing