Chennai: Authorities in Tamil Nadu cancelled the allotment of a piece of land set aside for Sterlite Industries Ltd’s controversial expansion plans in Thoothukudi on Tuesday even as chief minister E.K. Palaniswami justified the police firing that killed 13 protesters last week as “unavoidable."

A day after the state government sealed the offices of Vedanta’s Sterlite Industries in Thoothukudi, it cancelled the allotment of the 342.22 acre-land for the copper smelting plant.

In its order, the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu Ltd (SIPCOT) said: “In larger public interest, the land allotment made by SIPCOT for the proposed expansion of copper smelter plant (phase 2) by Vedanta Ltd is hereby cancelled. The price collected for the said land allotment will be refunded as per norms of SIPCOT."

The corporation’s move followed days of protests over the alleged environmental impact of the smelter, triggering police firing in which 13 protesters died. SIPCOT had allotted the land to Vedanta through various orders between 2005 and 2010.

Vedanta termed the closure of the plant as unfortunate. “We will study the order and decide on the future course of action," it said in a statement.

Protests against Sterlite Industries, which go back to over two decades, intensified in the past few months, after the state pollution control board gave its “consent to establish" licences to the copper smelting unit for its expansion. It would have doubled Sterlite’s production to 800,000 metric tonnes per annum.

Palaniswami tabled a report in the state assembly that said police took measures like bursting tear gas shells and making baton charges against those who indulged in violence on 22 May.

“In unavoidable circumstances, police personnel were forced to take action," he added, triggering a walkout by the opposition, which called the order for permanent closure of the smelter an “eyewash."

Tamil Nadu DGP T.K. Rajendran said on Tuesday the case related to the anti- Sterlite protests would be transferred to the Crime Branch Crime Investigation Department (CB-CID).

The question of who ordered police to fire into the protesters was answered when copies of a First Information Report or FIR from the police stations of SIPCOT, Thoothukudi north and south revealed that three deputy tahsildars had given their consent to the police action.

The FIR, reviewed by Mint, said that despite prohibitory orders members of fringe groups among the protesters instigated the violence. It also added that “over 10, 000 people with deadly weapons", damaged public property.

A complaint by Special Deputy Tahsildar (Election) P. Sekar said that he ordered the police to open fire as a “last resort," after warnings, using of tear gas and a lathicharge.

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