The government has refused to divulge information about riot control weapons and ammunition used to disperse protesters, saying this was “sensitive defence information” and making it public could jeopardise the country’s security.
A Delhi-based rights activist Venkatesh Nayak had filed a right to information (RTI) request asking the Ordnance Factory Board for details on the sale of weapons and ammunition, particularly pellet shotguns that have injured thousands of protesters in Kashmir.
Nayak also wanted access to the studies that the state-run arms manufacturer had conducted on the efficacy of these guns before putting them up for sale, as well as police forces that had bought them.
The government had told the Delhi high court last month that the central reserve police force (CRPF) deployed in J&K had used 8,650 tear-gas shells, 1750 rubber bullets and 3,665 pellet cartridges between July 8 and 11 August 11.
“When the government can disclose the exact number of ammunition used to quell violent protests, why can the price, quantum of sale and efficacy reports of the shotgun be shared with people?” Nayak asked.
The efficacy reports would have indicated if the ordnance factories that make the shotguns consider them as a riot control weapon if used with metal pellets. The ordnance factory board’s website suggests the shotgun could be used for this purpose only if used with rubber pellets. CRPF officials have said they used metal pellets, with or without a rubber coating.
The activist said there was overwhelming public interest in putting out information on the evaluation reports of riot control weapons, given how their use has led to serious injuries on a large scale.
It was on Nayak’s RTI request that the government had earlier released the 2010 report of the panel that recommended non-lethal weapons for crowd control measures as well as the standard operating procedures to be followed by the police.
The documents show that the home ministry panel had not considered pellet shotguns a non-lethal weapon for crowd control.
The RTI disclosure had revealed that the pellet shotguns introduced by the home ministry in 2010 did not have the support of the panel on non-lethal weapons.
A similar panel constituted after protesters were killed, and maimed in security crackdowns in Kashmir this year has, however, backed its use in rare cases.