Kolkata, Telegraph, Issue Date: Thursday , February 7 , 2008
http://telegraphindia.com/1080207/images/07zzrulesbig.jpg What rules say and what happened
Firing without warning
Guidelines to avert fatalities flouted
IMRAN AHMED SIDDIQUI
Calcutta, Feb. 6: Bengal police did not adhere to the most basic guidelines laid down for crowd control and opened indiscriminate fire on violent supporters of the Forward Bloc yesterday, a preliminary probe has revealed.
“What is shocking is that the officer in command did not give mandatory warning to the protesters that they would be fired upon if they did not disperse immediately. It’s a violation of the Police Regulations of Bengal,” a senior IPS officer said.
Section 153 of the regulations states that “before an order is given to fire upon a crowd, the magistrate or the police officer in command shall give full and significant warning to the rioters that they will be fired upon if they do not disperse immediately”.
Repeated warnings are expected to be issued before the green signal is given to open fire. But no such warning was given yesterday at Dinhata where five people were shot dead. The toll rose to six today with a policeman succumbing, to head injury suffered when he was beaten up yesterday.
The 150 policemen on the spot were reporting to the inspector-in-charge of Dinhata police station but no one would say who gave the order to open fire.
Officials declined to explain on record how the police could have overlooked one of the most fundamental rules governing the use of lethal weapons.
However, on condition of anonymity, an officer in Dinhata said: “The situation spiralled out of control so fast, where was the time to give the warning? We had to act immediately or else the sub-divisional office would have been burnt down by the 10,000-strong crowd.”
Other regulations include firing at a specific target, ensuring no greater hurt than what is unavoidable and end of firing as soon as the objective is achieved. All these rules appear to have been flouted, according to the initial findings of the unofficial inquiry.
The guidelines state the purpose of firing is to disperse the crowd and not to kill.
“It should have been controlled firing to deter and disperse the crowd,” another officer said.
The officer said the police could not seek cover in the plea that they were taken by surprise. “They should have used non-lethal weapons such as smoke grenades and water cannons. If they did not have it, they should have acquired them as they had prior knowledge of the procession and an indication that violence could break out.”
Several officers said Dinhata was not an isolated event but part of a pattern that burst out in the open in Nandigram, where police had been accused of letting things spin out of control.
Veterans blamed irregular firing practice and an absence of anger-management classes for the knee-jerk reaction that is making the force appear trigger-happy.
Policemen are given 15 rounds of ammunition to fire during the training period soon after their recruitment.
Besides, policemen are expected to undergo a firing drill — Annual Musketry Practice — once a year. “But only one-third of the force takes part in the practice. While some are away on leave, others are posted in camps across the state,” an officer said.
During the annual drill, each policeman is given 15 rounds to fire from three positions — standing, kneeling down and prone (lying on the ground).
“They are instructed to fire on a mob from kneel-down position, which causes minimal injuries (below the waist), but they hardly adhere to it.”
This issue is crucial to the Dinhata incident where many victims have been shot above the waist, though some have reported wounds on the thigh.
Policemen are also instructed to hit a person in the leg if the situation becomes violent and then watch to see if the crowd is deterred.
But such a controlled reaction is possible only if the force holds its nerve. “Most of them are not mentally trained to handle the crowd and their nerves snap in extreme situations,” the officer said.
Anger management courses are held at the National Police Academy in Hyderabad, but they are attended by officials of the rank of deputy superintendent and above, not those who handle guns on the ground.