Srinagar: Is the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) restricted to paper or followed in practice as claimed by both paramilitary CRPF and the Jammu and Kashmir police while dealing with the ongoing protests?
Kashmir Reader spokes to a number victims and their account actually is in contrast to the official claims.
The SOP is provided by Bureau of Police Research and Development and lays down 20 instructions to be followed by government forces regarding several levels of use of force for dispersing crowds.
As per it, the police must secure the presence of an Executive Magistrate nominated for the purpose by the State Administration as far as possible.
The police may use “minimum civil force” as is necessary to disperse the mob by resorting to lathicharge, water cannons, tear smoke shells and ‘non-lethal’ weapons.
If the crowd becomes defiant and the use of teargas, lathicharge, etc., is found insufficient and inexpedient to disperse it, the SOP allows use of firearms but the magistrate is responsible for taking a decision as to when protesters have to be dispersed by force and also the kind of force to be used.
In the absence of the magistrates, a decision is left to be taken by the officer-in-charge of the police who according to the SOP is solely responsible for deciding the exact amount of force to be used, the manner of using it and the setting of the details of the operations connected with the use of force, “all the time keeping in mind the principle that no more force than necessary should be used”.
A police officer below the rank of SHO has no powers to disperse such assembly but he may arrest any person without warrant for being a member of the unlawful assembly.
The SOP also provides that the police should not open fire except by the orders of the magistrate and in case of non-availability of the Magistrate, the in charge officer shall exercise extreme caution and discretion regarding the extent and the line of fire and effort has to be to direct it below the knees of the target.
“Whenever firing is resorted to, direction and warnings to the mobs should be announced through loudspeakers. Police vehicles should be equipped with loudspeakers and where such arrangement cannot be made, hand megaphones should be kept ready for the announcement,” the SOP says.
Firing with live ammunition should be directed against the most threatening part of the crowd, the aim being kept low on legs to avoid hitting the vital organs and it should cease the moment it is no longer necessary.
Whether magistrates have been utilized or whether the competent police officer have ordered firing is official secret hitherto but victims account affirms that use of water cannons has never been employed or protesters never warned through announcements via loudspeakers or hand megaphones.
“Warning through loudspeakers? Where does it happen, in which country you are talking about?” one of the pellet victim told Kashmir Reader.
“I was returning from marriage ceremony when policemen fired pellets at me near Nawa Kadal. There were no protests at that time at all,” the victim, who was injured last week, added.
A photojournalist, who was hit with pellets last week, said that he too did not heard any warning when police and paramilitary CRPF shower pellets at protesters.
On Saturday, a number of people were injured in Shopian and all the victims Kashmir Reader spoke said that no warnings is made through loudspeakers.
Besides use of loudspeakers, the nature of injuries suffered by the victims, above waist, also belies official claims on following the SOPs.
In his affidavit before the J&K high court, the CRPF’s Inspector General, Atul Karwal, also did not mention use of loudspeakers before firing of pellets or firing is resorted to by the paramilitary forces.
“Pump action gun is used after a warming, an aerial fire and usually after the use of tear smokes or other means of force. Bystanders and curious teenagers who continue to remain present after these warnings and use of lesser force, before the pellet gun is used, become part of the unlawful assembly and do not remain innocent anymore,” he said.
As per SOP of use of force in law and order situations, he said, generally tear gas is used first to disperse the mob before the use of firing of plastic pellets, rubber bullets or the firing of Pump Action Gun (pellet gun) is resorted to.
“If lesser use of force fails to control the situation, use of pellet gun is the last option before opening fire from rifles which could result in fatalities,” he said, adding that in the present scenario “with the members of the mob armed with stones, acid, petrol bombs and even grenades, resorting to lathi charge is sometimes not advisable.”
“The SOP is being followed. It is vehemently denied that many persons have suffered injuries at the back of their body and the use of pellets is always proportionate,” Director General of Police said in his affidavit before the high court recently.