What has been used to keep away wild elephants from attacking Army camps in Assam will now be used against rioters in Jammu and Kashmir – one of the most pungent chilli powders you can find in the world.
The Centre has announced that chilli grenades will be used in J&K along with the pellet guns. The spice being packed into the crowd dispersal grenades is ‘Bhoot jolokia’ or Naga Chilli – considered among the world’s hottest peppers.
This chilli was first found in 2007 by Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO) laboratory Defence Research Laboratory (DRL) in Tezpur’s (Assam). At the time DRL was under Ravi B Srivastava.
Using the Naga chilli for military crowd control applications is DRDO’s initiative.
“The idea of its use as a nonlethal weapon, as a spray for women’s safety and protection from wild elephants originated from DRL,” Srivastava said. “Subsequently , three DRDO laboratories including DRL, Defence Research and Development Establishment, Gwalior and High Energy Materials Research Laboratory , Pune, joined hands and developed chillibased ammunition together.”
It all started with World Wildlife Fund asking the scientists to work on the problem of shooing away wild elephants that bothered the locals in Assam. Srivastava said, “Even Army camps were attacked. Once I tasted local food at someone’s place and I could not forget the spice that almost burnt me.
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He added, “I then applied the chillies on fences to keep elephants at bay and it worked. The same properties of the pungent chilli and its tear producing effect were applied in making the chilli bomb.”
Owing to the lack of infrastructure at DRL, the making of the chilli bomb started in DRDO’s laboratories in Gwalior and Pune. “This is the best alternative to pellet guns,” Srivastava insisted. “Its pungency can almost choke the lungs and affect the sight by reducing anyone to tears immediately,” he said.
Srivastava retired in 2015 after his last posting as director at Defence Institute of High Altitude Research, Leh. In 2010, 60,000 pieces of chilli bombs were ordered for paramilitary forces. “I was recently told by a company that our invention has found its application in pepper spray . In fact, I had also suggested using these chillies for soldiers deployed in high altitude as it generates lot of heat when consumed.”
DRL had found that the Naga chilli measured a high 8,55,000 Scoville heat units (SHU), the scale used to measure pungency of chillies.Any chilli above two lakh SHU can easily produce tears. Before this claim, it was thought that the Californian Red Savina chilli was the hottest with a measure of 5,77,000 SHU. Having proved the potential of Naga chilli, Srivastava pursued the Assam government to cultivate it over 300 hectares of land. “One of the big private sector companies approached our Assam laboratory to enhance Naga chilli’s cultivation for export,” he said.