Sterlite protest turns violent in Tamil Nadu, 11 killed in police firing
Protesters seeking closure of copper smelting unit clash with cops in Thoothukudi
Chennai: At least 11 people were killed and more than 50 injured in police firing as the three months-long protest against Vedanta’s Sterlite copper unit in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district turned violent on Tuesday.
To mark the 100th day of the protests, a march towards the district collector’s office was organized to demand the shutdown of Sterlite Industries Ltd’s plant.
In view of the law and order challenge, district collector N. Venkatesh issued Section 144 in the area. He had allowed the protesters to demonstrate at a ground near the Thoothukudi old bus stand.
However, things went out of hand for the local administration when thousands of local residents marched towards the collector’s office with black flags. To stop the mob from entering the office premises, the police resorted to lathi charge and started firing tear gas shells.
The mob retaliated with stones and set police vehicles and Sterlite employees’ quarters on fire.
“Who gave them (police) permission to shoot people above the knee,” asked S. Raja, one of the protesters and member of the Anti-Sterlite Committee. He alleged that those who were killed in the firing had bullet injuries above their waist.
Following the violence, Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami headed a meeting with ministers and police officials in Chennai. Subsequently, he issued a statement appealing to the people to maintain peace.
“Around 20,000 people marched towards the Sterlite plant in Thoothukudi, torched police vehicles and vehicles inside the collector’s office and also pelted stones. Since protesters indulged in violence, the police had to resort to firing to bring the situation under control,” the government statement said.
However, the protesters who Mint spoke to over the phone alleged that the residential complex was set on fire by the police and the collector’s office was already filled with smoke when agitators approached the building.
Meanwhile, condemning the police action and the state government, the opposition and various organizations protested across the state. The Tamil Nadu Vanigar Sangam (Traders Association) has called for an indefinite shutdown across Thoothukudi.
More than 2,000 police personnel were deployed across the port town and in neighbouring districts.
The state government announced a compensation of Rs10 lakh to the next-of-kin of the deceased, Rs3 lakh for those with serious injuries, Rs1 lakh for minor injuries, and government jobs for the family members of the deceased.
The state also said that an inquiry commission will probe into the incident.
While opposition leader M.K. Stalin condemned the “police atrocities” and blamed the “inept government”, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) state secretary K. Balakrishnan demanded Palaniswami’s resignation.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi termed the “gunning down by the police as a brutal example of state-sponsored terrorism”.
“These citizens were murdered for protesting against injustice. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of these martyrs and the injured,” he posted on Twitter.
In March, thousands of residents had gathered at Thoothukudi town to protest against the copper smelting factory, the latest in a series of protests going back over 20 years against Sterlite Industries, a unit of London-based Vedanta Resources Plc.
Earlier, Mint had reported that Chennai Solidarity Group, an NGO, had alleged that Sterlite had obtained clearance without conducting a public hearing as prescribed by the Environmental Impact Assessment notification.
The report had also said that State Industries Promotion Corp. of Tamil Nadu Ltd, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and the ministry of environment and forests misled the Madras high court on Sterlite Industries’ proposed expansion plans to avoid public scrutiny.
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