An expert seven-member committee of the Home Ministry recently recommended PAVA (Pelargonic Acid Vanillyl Amide) or Nonivamide shells as a viable alternative to the pellet guns, which have been highly criticised off lately for causing lethal injuries – especially eye-related – to the protestors during the Kashmir unrest.
To a layperson, this quintessentially scientific term translates to a highly pungent organic compound found in chilli pepper used for various purposes – as a food additive providing flavour and spice, in pepper sprays, and also in pain-related medicines.
With the death toll in Kashmir having risen to 70 in the context of the longest ever curfew in the state, there has been intense call for replacement of these pellet guns, which have been in use in the valley since 2010. Buckling under criticism, the political establishment, spearheaded by Home Minister Rajnath Singh, promised an alternative in place soon.
Unlike the metal pellets which can penetrate the body and lead to life-threatening injuries, the PAVA shells have been deemed to be “biosafe, better than chilli grenade or tear smoke shell” and those, which “can also be used in combination with stun and tear shells” by the expert panel – comprising of representatives from the Home Ministry, BSF, CRPF, Jammu and Kashmir Police, IIT Delhi and Ordnance Factory Board.
Likely to have bhut jalokia, the world’s hottest chilli, and phosphorous, these shells will be able to choke the respiratory tract of the target and temporarily paralyse him/her, along with causing severe eye and skin irritation. Notably, the shells fall in the “above peak” category of the Scoville index, a measure for chilli intensity, but are not said to be lethal, having only temporary effects.
Notably, though PAVA shells have been under development in the Lucknow-based Indian Institute of Toxicology Research for around a year, it was only last week when they were first tested and subsequently approved by the expert panel, The shells have also been reportedly used by Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in Kashmir in the last few days.
Among other options which the committee reportedly mulled over as effective alternatives to pellet guns, there was a laser shooter causing temporary blindness, along with a dye marker grenade, stun grenade, wooden pellets and bean-bag rounds among others. There have also been various examples of usage of non-lethal weapons in different parts of the world, including Skunk (used by Israel against Palestinian agitators), pepper spray (used during the Occupy Wall Street protests), and tear gas (used durin Tahrir Square protests in Egypt).
With the panel recommending to the government to “immediately” ask the Tear Smoke Unit of the Border Security Force (BSF), Gwalior to manufacture 50,000 shells, it might be a expected that they will replace the pellet guns in the coming days. However, as pointed out by a security official in Kashmir, the shells have not proved to be useful in all settings. The solution lies in having various substitutes.