Standard operating procedure of Nepal Police requires officers to use batons for crowd control before resorting to tear gas. After that, the law allows them to use rubber bullets and then shoot below the knee in self-defence.
Nepal Police is using six types of tear gas shells: 38 CM, gas grenade smoke, simple gas grenade, dual fire shell, long range guns mounted on riot-vehicles. The shells are of two types — CS and CN depending on their chemical composition. CN gas is actually considered to be a chemical weapon and has been banned by international treaty since 1993.
Although Nepal is a signatory to that treaty, it is still using CN canisters and even those are past their expiry date which could be even more lethal.
Former DIG Malla believes police is forced to use expired shells because of procurement issues, and the budget never being enough even for basic needs like uniforms. “They have to manage with what they get,” he says.
Serving police officers, however, say that protests are getting more violent and they have to use tear gas for crowd control. Unlike in the past, protesters do not disperse when warnings are issued or after baton charges. However, they admit the frequency of protests have gone down in the past two years. This means there is a large stockpile of unused tear gas shells.
“We cannot buy new ones unless we exhaust our old stock,” one senior police source says on condition of anonymity, “If there is a protest now, we will be using tear gas and in all likelihood they will be old canisters. I have never seen expired shells being replaced with new ones.”
According to the Journal of Environmental Analytical Chemistry, most tear gas is as serious health hazard. The toxic aerosol can cause serious skin ailments, vomiting and serious ear, nose and throat problems, including permanent blindness or even death.
Setu BK of Nepalganj died in 2006 during pro-democracy protests after police fired tear gas at demonstrators. She was being rushed to a hospital in Lucknow, but died on the way.
“Tear gas temporarily inactivates our nerves and seriously affects eyes and lungs or may cause death if the body is weak,” says Rameshwor Adhikari, a professor at Tribhuvan University’s Department of Chemistry. “It is a chemical weapon.”
He adds that tear gas can become even more dangerous if it is expired since the chemicals in it become totally different from what they were previously. Also, tear gas may lose its effectiveness after long storage, and this could be even more dangerous because police would be forced to fire into crowds when they fail to disperse.
In 2006, in a decision on a writ petition at the Supreme Court demanding that use of tear gas be banned. The court directed the government to form an expert panel to study the matter.
The court decision read: ‘What are other alternatives to tear gas? Can local administration use other methods?’ The order was never implemented.
Center for Investigative Journalism Nepal