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Thoothukudi killings: Protests planned near India’s UK embassy over weekend

Vidya Ram London | Updated on May 23, 2018

Outrage Members of the Tamil People in UK group held a protest outside Vedanta chief Anil Agarwal’s house in London on Tuesday

A protest is set to take place outside the Indian embassy in London over the weekend, as pressure on the company, as well as authorities in India and the UK, mounts following the killing of at least 11 people in police firing in the port town of Thoothukudi in south Tamil Nadu over the past two days over the expansion of Sterlite’s copper plant.

On Wednesday, the Madras High Court ordered the Vedanta group company to cease construction of Unit II of the plant.

With parent Vedanta headquartered in London and listed on the London Stock Exchange, the city has long been a centre of campaigns against the metal and mining giant’s global activities, both by NGOs and diaspora groups.

The protest on Saturday afternoon is being organised by Foil Vedanta (a grassroots activist group centred in London but linking into domestic campaign groups), which has been pushing for action against the company for the past few years. Alongside will be Tamil People in UK, a group representing several thousand members across Britain.

“We want to point to the collusion of the Indian state in these killings. We absolutely condemn the collusion with this British corporate entity who we hold directly responsible for the events,” said Miriam Rose of Foil Vedanta.

“We are gravely concerned about the treatment of protesters and the violation of human rights,” said Karthik Kamalakannan of Tamil People in UK. “We also want to express our solidarity with the protesters. We are proud of the stand they have been taking against this corporate giant.”

Picketing Agarwal

The group held a protest outside the London house of Anil Agarwal on Tuesday, as soon as news of the killings broke. Kamalakannan said the group would also be reaching out to British MPs to push for a parliamentary debate.

Vedanta Resources has faced criticism in the past from politicians and others in the UK over its track record. In 2015 John McDonnell, the Labour party’s spokesperson on Treasury matters and then a back-bench MP, tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament expressing “grave concern” over the death of over 40 workers in the collapse of a chimney in 2009, and deploring the steps the company took to “suppress” publication of a judicial report on the issue. Other signatories included Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, also a backbench MP at the time.

Foil Vedanta has repeatedly called for a cross-party inquiry into Vedanta Resources, and a review of the decision by Britain’s regulatory authorities to allow the company to list on the London Stock Exchange. “We have been calling for the company to be delisted,” said Ms. Rose. “Delisting it would be the ultimate action the government could take. We argue that the regulator never did the due diligence at the time. It should never have been listed.”

Local residents of Thoothukudi have been protesting the ₹3,500 crore expansion of the Sterilite Industries (India) copper smelter, arguing that since the plant’s establishment in 1996, there has been extensive pollution, leading to respiratory, skin problems and other illnesses.

Published on May 23, 2018

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