American journalist Mark Scialla was deported after he was found covering the Sterlite agitation in Tuticorin while on a tourist visa.
Sterlite Copper has been operating in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu, for over two decades. Last year, after Sterlite announced it was doubling its capacity, protests broke out in the area.
On May 22, 2018, 15 people were killed in police firing on protestors after which the Tamil Nadu government ordered the plant's closure.
Subsequently, Sterlite successfully challenged the closure order before the National Green Tribunal, but the government obtained a stay order on the NGT ruling from the high court.
Given these developments, and given that Sterlite is owned by the London-based Anil Agarwal of the Vedanta group, there has been intense media focus on the plant, including by foreign journalists.
A controversy broke out last week when American journalist Mark Scialla was picked up by the Tuticorin police and questioned for speaking to people affected by the May 22 police firing on the protestors as well as locals about the pollution generated by the Sterlite plant.
Scialla was served with a 'Leave India Notice', ordering him to leave the country within 48 hours.
The people he interacted with in Tuticorin -- Fatima Babu, Raja, Regan and Prince Cardoza, all known members of the anti-Sterlite movement which has numerous organisations affiliated to it -- were also called in for questioning.
"I was sitting with Fatima Babu madam when this journalist came and met her. He was asking her about Sterlite and we were replying to him," Regan tells Rediff.com's A Ganesh Nadar.
"Is talking to a journalist a crime? Are we living in a democracy? I don't know what their problem is, but I have been called for an inquiry," Regan adds.
"Fatima Babu told me to go with the reporter as he does not know Tamil. He spoke to one boy who was shot in the leg during the police firing," says Prince Cardoza.
"We then went to Pandarapatti village and met a man who has cancer. We met a 65-year-old woman who was working in her field."
"Then we visited and photographed one well which provided drinking water for this village some 10 years back. Now they cannot drink the same well water," Cardoza adds.
"We also saw a Sintex tank that was being fed from a borewell. This water is meant only for washing and is not fit for drinking or even cooking. We also met another old man who was bed-ridden."
"After that we had parottas which Tuticorin is famous for. I then dropped him off at the hotel where he was staying and went home."
"At 10.15 in the night," Cardoza reveals, "the police called me for an inquiry. They did not take me to any police station, but spoke to me in an open space on the way to the harbour. I told them everything. They wanted it all in writing."
"So I gave it to them in writing and came back home. Next day I heard they had picked up the journalist too for questioning."
"While they were taking me from my house, my son was shooting a video on his phone. They tried to take the mobile phone away, but my son refused saying it was his phone and he was filming his dad, what was your problem?" says Cardoza.
"When we came back home they took a letter from my wife saying I had been taken for questioning and also brought back safely."
IMAGE: Mark Scialla. Photograph: Kind courtesy Mark Scialla's Facebook page.