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Anti-Sterlite stir: 11 die in police action; TN government sets up inquiry panel

Last updated on: May 23, 2018 22:56 IST

The National Human Rights Commission took cognisance of the violence and issued notices to chief secretary and the director general of police, calling for detailed reports in two weeks.

IMAGE: Police personnel baton charge at a protestor demanding the closure of Vedantas Sterlite Copper unit, in Tuticorin on Wednesday. Photograph: PTI Photo

Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin town was on the boil again on Wednesday, with a man shot dead in police firing following fresh clashes between security personnel and locals demanding closure of a copper factory over pollution concerns, a day after police action left 10 protesters dead.

In the line of Opposition fire, the state government constituted a Commission of Inquiry headed by retired Madras high court judge Aruna Jagadeesan to probe the violence, and shunted out the Collector and Superintendent of Police of Tuticorin.


Collector N Venkatesh has been replaced by the Collector of neighbouring Tirunelveli Sandeep Nanduri, while Nilgiris district police chief Murali Rambha will take over from SP P Mahendran.

The Union home ministry has, meanwhile, sought a report from the Tamil Nadu government on the circumstances leading to police firing on protesters demanding the closure of Vedanta group’s Sterlite Copper plant, which they claim had polluted ground water in the area, official sources said in New Delhi.

IMAGE: Smoke billows from a buring bus during protests demanding the closure of Vedanta's Sterlite Copper unit, in Tuticorin. Photograph: PTI Photo

Taking cognisance of the large-scale violence, the National Human Rights Commission issued notices to Tamil Nadu chief secretary and the director general of police, asking them to submit a detailed report in two weeks, while the Madras high court stayed the proposed expansion of the plant.

Enraged over Tuesday’s killings, protesters took to streets on Wednesday morning, attacking police with stones, setting two government vehicles on fire, and trying to storm into a hospital where injured were kept, prompting security personnel to baton-charge them and open fire, officials said.

Several people, including police personnel, were injured in clashes.

Seeking to control the damage done due to police action, the government announced constitution of the Jagadeesan commission of inquiry.

“The panel will cover the law and order incidents following the siege of the District Collectorate on May 22 by thousands of persons violating prohibitory orders,” an official release said in Chennai.


IMAGE: A demonstrator displays a placard during a protest, organised by All India Democratic Youth Organisation, after at least 10 people were killed when police fired on protesters seeking closure of the plant on environmental grounds in Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu. Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters

Reinforcements have been rushed to Tuticorin from adjoining districts to assist the local police and civil administration in restoring calm in the strife-torn town.

A Madras high court bench comprising Justices M Sundar and Anitha Sumanth, meanwhile, stayed the proposed expansion of the plant on a petition filed by environment activist Fathima Babu.

The bench also directed the central government to submit a report within four months after inviting public opinion on the expansion plan.

Sterlite had got consent for expansion, after the existing unit was shut two months ago by an order of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board.


IMAGE: Students Federation of India activists protest against the police personnel. Photograph: R Senthil Kumar/PTI Photo

NHRC, citing media reports, observed, “It appears that the authorities probably failed to foresee the tragic violence which took place”.

Noting that the agitation against the alleged polluting unit was on for more than three months, the rights body said effective precautionary measures and deployment of
adequate number of police personnel could possibly have averted violence.

“It also appears from several media reports, including those on TV news channels, that the police resorted to firing on unarmed protesters without following the Standard Operating Procedure, which tantamounts to serious violation of human rights and thus is a matter of concern,” it said.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi alleged that Tamils were being killed as they had refused to “bow” to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideology.

“Tamils are being killed since they refuse to bow to the ideology of the RSS. The feelings of the Tamil people can never be trampled by the bullets of the RSS and Modi. We are with you Tamil brothers and sisters #SterliteProtest,” he said in a tweet in Tamil.

IMAGE: Smoke billows from burning barricades as agitators march through streets demanding the closure of Vedanta's Sterlite Copper unit in Tuticorin. Photograph: PTI Photo

Dravida Munnetra Kazagham working president M K Stalin demanded the resignation of Chief Minister K Palaniswami and state police chief T K Rajendran.

“On behalf of the DMK, I strongly condemn the violence. Chief Minister Palaniswami and DGP T K Rajendran should take moral responsibility for the police action and resign,” Stalin, who visited the families of the victims, told reporters.

“Will@CMOTamilNadu take action against DGP for failing to maintain law and order? Will Chief Secretary explain her role in this entire episode? Will there be justice for #SterliteProtest?” he later said in a tweet.

“Why was there not adequate police presence to maintain law and order during #SterliteProtest? Is it accurate to say that there was a total failure of State intelligence which led to these unfortunate deaths?” he said in another tweet.

Actor and Makkal Needhi Maiam president Kamal Haasan also visited the injured in Tuticorin and extended his condolences to the bereaved families.

Actor Rajinikanth also condemned the police action. “The incident is due to the total negligence of the government. I strongly condemn the unlawful activities by the police,” the actor said in a video message that was shared on his official Twitter handle.


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