Troops from the Special Operations Command (SOC) have the discretion to use tear gas when the need arises, said Deputy Assistant Commissioner David Scott Arul on Wednesday.
He was responding to a question from the Committee of Inquiry asking why troops had to defer to higher police management not at the scene of the Dec 8 riot, for permission to use the lachrymatory agent that night.
DAC Arul, who commanded the SOC during the unrest, said that although clearance was sought from Acting Commissioner of Police T. Raja Kumar to do so, his men could deploy the gas if there was a "threat to life".
This came after a flurry of questions from panel member Tee Tua Ba over the logic of looking to senior officers not at the scene for the green light to use the gas in a "dynamic situation" where "every second counts".
DAC Arul explained that higher management should be informed because tear gas - also known as CS gas - affects areas outside the target zone as well.
The wind, for instance, could send the chemical agent wafting in the direction of innocent bystanders. "But I think it is very important that we have the ability to make the decision (to use the gas) when required," he added.
DAC Arul told the committee that his troops were ordered to stick to either a 400ml fogger - which has a maximum range of about 6m to disperse crowds more sweepingly - or a 65ml spray, which can dispense tear gas up to 4m ahead.
Committee chairman G. Pannir Selvam also wanted to know why SOC troops did not have pepper spray at their disposal.
DAC Arul said tear gas is more effective at dispersing crowds, which was the objective of the SOC that night.
"Pepper spray has a much more debilitating effect... it forces your eyes shut," he said. "CS (gas) causes a choking sensation, burns the eyes, burns the skin, but it's not as debilitating... we want people to disperse and they must be able to see to run away."
There was, however, no use for tear gas that night.
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