Assam cops opt for water cannon

Guwahati, Oct 19 : Assam police are ready to let loose water cannons on unruly and restive protesters.

For the first time in its history, the state police, having faced flak for resorting to lathicharge to control mob violence, have acquired four sophisticated water cannons. These come with a tank specially designed to store an indelible coloured dye. If the police decide that they want to “tag” protesters with the dye, they can press a button to inject it into the main water stream.

Once the water cannon is trained on a crowd, anyone hit by the spray will be easily recognisable. The police said the dye would help them identify the trouble-mongers even if they manage to mingle with the crowd.

“So far we only had the option of the baton to control unruly crowds, sometimes causing serious injuries to the protesters. With the procurement of these water canons, we have an effective but non-lethal weapon to take on such protesters,” a police official said. The police have often come under the scanner of human rights groups for resorting to lathicharge, bursting teargas shells and firing in the air to disperse unlawful assembly of people. These vehicle-mounted water cannons also come with closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras at both ends of the vehicle to track and record crowd behaviour. “We will be able to see the CCTV feed later, which will help us spot and identify those involved in inciting the crowd,” the official said.

In the first phase, the police have procured four water cannons, approved by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), for nearly Rs 50 lakh each from the Mumbai-based Vijay Fire Vehicles and Pumps Limited. “These four water cannons are for Guwahati. We intend to procure more such cannons, preferably one for each district, in the next phase,” he said. These have been procured under the Assam police modernisation scheme.

The capacity of the water tank is around 5,000 litres while the capacity of the tank containing indelible ink is around 250 litres. “The water cannon can traverse 270 degrees on the horizontal plane and 75 degrees on vertical plane. It will have a discharge rate of 1,400 litres per minute (LPM) to 3,800 LPM with a span of 55 to 70 metres. The cannon can be controlled from the cabin by a joystick. The water jet can be a continuous discharge or pulsating,” he said.

Some of its additional features are amplifier or public address system, electric siren, searchlight, fog lamps and the like. He said there had been past instances of state police using fire tenders to disperse the crowd in certain emergencies but that was not very much effective.

“The problem with fire tenders is that they are specifically designed for fire-fighting and not for crowd control. Moreover, in using fire engines in case of mob violence, there is the danger of the fire tenders being damaged and firemen being injured as they are not trained to deal with such situations,” the source said.

“But the water cannons will be used by policemen who have requisite experience to handle the law and order situation. Moreover, the vehicles mounted with water cannons have iron netting on windows to protect them in case of a mob attack or stone throwing,” he added.