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9 killed as protest against Sterlite plant turns violent

TE Raja Simhan Chennai | Updated on May 22, 2018 Published on May 22, 2018

Burning issue The anti-Sterlite protesters set on fire two-wheelers parked on the Palayamkottai bypass road demanding the closure of the copper manufacturing unit at Thoothukudi on Tuesday. (right) Police chasing away protesters marching towards the Thoothukudi District Collectorate   -  N_RAJESH

THOOTHUKUDI : TAMIL NADU : 22/05/2018 : Police chasing the anti sterlite protesters at VVD signal in Thoothukudi when they are marching towards Thoothukudi District Collectorate as they had planned to lay siege the Collectorate demanding the closure of copper manufacturing unit in Thoothukudi on Tuesday. Photo: N. Rajesh   -  THE HINDU

Tamil Nadu government appoints panel to probe the incident at Thoothukudi

Nine people were killed on Tuesday when police opened fire on protestors at a demonstration at Thoothukudi in southern Tamil Nadu to demand the closure of Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper unit.

Over 20 people, including policemen, were injured in clashes that erupted when over 20,000 people gathered for the 100th day of the protests against the copper smelting unit. People in the villages around the factory accuse the unit of polluting the environment.

Sterlite Copper, which has operated the 400,000-tonne-per-annum-plant in Thoothukudi for the past 20 years denies the charge of pollution.

Compensation announced

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami said a one-man commission headed by a retired judge would investigate the incident. He announced a compensation of ₹10 lakh each to those killed; ₹3 lakh to the severely injured; and ₹1 lakh to those with minor injuries.

The problem started on Tuesday when a mob tried to enter the plant, pelted stones at the Collectorate, overturned and burnt a few police vehicles, and entered Sterlite’s residential quarters. Panic gripped the industrial area when around 2,000 policemen resorted to lathi-charge and firing to disburse the protesters, sources said.

Section 144 of the CrPC was invoked in and around the Sterlite plant to provide security. However, protesters tried to break through, leading to a clash with the policemen.

Defending the police action, Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar told reporters that entering the Collector’s office and resorting to violence was not acceptable. The use of force by the police was unavoidable, he said.

The violence brought movement of goods to and from VOC Port to a halt. “We expect normalcy to be resorted in a couple of days,” said a leading freight forwarder.

Till late evening, Sterlite could not be reached for a comment; nor did it issue any statement.

A State government press release noted that in March 2013, following a gas leak at the plant, the then Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa had ordered its closure. However, the National Green Tribunal overturned the order. The State government moved the Supreme Court against the order, and the petition is pending there.

Early this year, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board rejected Sterlite’s application seeking renewal of consent to operate the plant; it cited its failure to comply with environment norms such as disposal of copper waste and effluents. The company moved the Appellate Authority.

Condemnation

Various political parties condemned the violence. “(This)... is a brutal example of state-sponsored terrorism. These citizens were murdered for protesting against injustice,” tweeted Congress President Rahul Gandhi.

DMK Working President MK Stalin blamed the State government, which had failed to find a solution to the problem. Adequate security was not provided to the agitators, he alleged.

Actor Rajinikanth too tweeted that the State government was responsible for the death of “innocent people”. Makkal Needhi Maiam founder Kamal Haasan termed it a non-violent protest. Closure of the plant was the only solution, he added.

Published on May 22, 2018
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