Sterlite protest in Tuticorin: Nine people were killed in port city of Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu on Tuesday after a crowd close to 20,000 started protesting against Vedanta group’s Sterlite Copper plant citing pollution concerns and demanded immediate closure of it. Police resorted to firing after a strong crowd started marching to the district collectorate in Tuticorin demanding scrapping of proposed expansion of the copper smelter of Sterlite Copper. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K Palaniswami has ordered a probe into the incident even as state Governor Banwarilal Purohit condoled the deaths.
Palaniswami said that the protesters took out a procession towards the collectorate defying the prohibitory orders clamped in the specific area in Tuticorin, 600 km from Tamil Nadu capital Chennai. Reports say protesters hurled stones and set government vehicles and public property on fire. The tragic incident has evoked sharp reactions from parties, including Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).
Here are top highlights and latest developments
The trouble began on Tuesday morning when over 15,000 people started their march towards the collectorate and entered its premises. Police was forced to open fire to deter the prortesters unless the district headquarters would have been ransacked, a Tamil Nadu Police official was quoted as saying by the Indian Express. Reports say that police fired again in the evening to disperse the crowd. CM Palaniswami confirmed that the nine people lost lives in “police action” even as DGP T K Rajendran chose not to divulge too much on the issue. The state government had announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the families of each of the deceased.
Present situation in Tuticorin
On Wednesday morning, security has been tightened and shops were seen closed, as per ANI report. Section 144 has been imposed in the city to prevent any untoward incident.
What is the protest all about?
The protest against this Sterlite Copper plant is a prolonged one. Sporadic protests have been going on since 1999. Residents were also demanding the closure of the Sterlite copper smelter. A petition was also filed in the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court seeking closure of the plant. The judgement is awaited as the court had finished the hearing on May 17. A fresh protest began three months back and yesterday was the 100th day of the recent agitation. Protesters have raised concern over the pollution belching out of the copper plant, including issues relating to disposal of copper waste and effluents from the operational unit, demanding its permanent closure.
History and controversy surrounding Sterlite Copper plant
The unit is said to be one of the country’s biggest copper smelters . Vedanta Ltd — a majority-owned subsidiary of London-listed Vedanta Resources. The plant was commissioned in 1997. However, it made headlines in 2013 headline when a gas leak took place leading to death of one person and inflicting injuries on several others. Following a gas leak in March 2013, the then chief minister the late J Jayalalithaa, ordered its closure following which the company moved the National Green Tribunal. With the tribunal overturning the government order, the state moved the Supreme Court against it, and the petition was still pending there, it added. The plant has been shut since March 27 this year, with the company citing the closure as a part of 15-day maintenance. Incidentally, the company had consent to operate the plant until March 31 this year.
Tamil Nadu’s stand
In an official statement, the government said the plant was in operation in Meelavitan in Tuticorin for the past 20 years. It said the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) had earlier this year rejected Sterlite’s application seeking renewal of consent to operate the plant over non-fulfilment of green norms, including those related to disposal of copper waste and effluents. The company later moved the Appellate Authority and the next hearing is slated for June 6, it said.
A political slugfest has erupted over the issue. DMK Working President and Leader of Opposition, MK Stalin, has termed the Poilce action as the “inhumane”. He said that the state government committed a “Himalayan blunder” by handling the protest with “guns and teargas shells and demananed an inquiry by a sitting high court judge abd a compensation of Rs 1 crore. Stalin also sought the removal of state police chief TK Rajendiran. Stalin, who was to attend the swearing-in ceremony of JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy as Karnataka chief minister tomorrow, said he has cancelled his Bengaluru visit, and would head for Tuticorin to take stock of the situation. MDMK founder Vaiko likened the incident to the British era Jallianwala Bagh massacre, while the CPI(M)’s state unit demanded the chief minister’s resignation. Opposition parties including PMK, DMDK, Congress, and the MNM slammed the violence and police action. Superstars Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan have condemned the government’s action.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi has lashed out at the Tamil Nadu government over the incident. “The gunning down by the police of 9 people in the #SterliteProtest in Tamil Nadu, is a brutal example of state sponsored terrorism. These citizens were murdered for protesting against injustice. My thoughts & prayers are with the families of these martyrs and the injured,” Gandhi said in a tweet.
“I just landed in Bengaluru to the shocking news about the incident near the Sterlite Tuticorin plant. My thoughts and prayers with the people of Tamil Nadu at this hour of grief. My deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives and hope the injured recover soon,” West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said in a tweet.