The months-long protest demanding closure of Vedanta's Sterlite Copper unit in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, took a violent turn on Tuesday, 22 May, with agitators allegedly pelting stones and toppling police vehicles after they were prevented from marching towards the plant.
At least 11 people, including at least 1 woman, have been killed and over a dozen injured following clashes between police and demonstrators, according to an official statement released by the governor’s office condoling the deaths.
Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami has announced compensation of Rs 10 lakh each for those killed during protests and Rs 3 lakh each for the injured, and government jobs for the family members of the deceased. An inquiry commission will also be set up to investigate the incident, he said.
Meanwhile, DMK Working President MK Stalin is on his way to meet the Tamil Nadu chief secretary at the Secretariat to discuss the issue. Stalin has reportedly cancelled his visit to Bengaluru, where he was expected to take part in HD Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in ceremony, in light of the incident.
As tension simmered in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu CM Palaniswami appealed to the public to maintain peace.
In defence of the AIADMK government, Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar said that the government is not anti-people.
“Even during J Jayalalithaa’s regime, we were against the plant functioning in Tuticorin. The judgment in the case is still pending,” Jayakumar told ANI.
CM Edapadi Palaniswamy Appeals For Peace
Tamil Nadu CM Edappadi Palaniswamy appealed for peace among people in the wake of sterlite protest in Tuticorin.
20,000 people took out a rally towards Sterlite company and towards Collector’s office and some indulged in violence. They indulged in arson in the Collector’s office and pelted stones at the Collector’s office. To control the violence, police had no other option but to swing into action.Tamil Nadu CM Edapadi Palanisaamy’s statement
In the statement, the chief minister assured that the Tamil Nadu government will take all necessary legal steps on sterlite issue.
“I request people to maintain peace and have faith in the government,” he said.
Despite Section 144, Protesters Rally To Collector’s Office
In spite of Section 144 being imposed in the area, the protestors rallied to the district Collectorate opposing the Sterlite Copper unit. As part of the protest, they had planned to gherao the Collector’s office as well as the Sterlite plant.
However, angered over not being allowed to take out a rally, the slogan-shouting protesters forcibly tried to push the security personnel away.
They then allegedly started hurling stones at the police and also overturned a vehicle, after which the security personnel lobbed teargas shells to disperse them. Some vehicles were also set on fire, leading to tension in the area.
Meanwhile, a peaceful demonstration was held near the old bus stand in the town, also demanding the closure of the Sterlite unit and the proposed expansion of the plant.
Several shops in Thoothukudi, Srivaikundam and Oddapidaram remained shut in support of the protest, police said. The district has been witnessing several protests by locals and others against the Sterlite Copper plant and its proposed expansion.
District Collector N Venkatesh had issued a prohibitory order under Section 144 in view of the protest, while granting permission for the protest only at the SAV ground near Thoothukudi old bus stand.
Over 4,000 police personnel were deployed to prevent the crowding, but it proved to be futile as protestors at various areas breached the barricades and marched towards the Collectorate.
Many of them managed to sneak in to the Collectorate; however, police resorted to lathi-charge to drive them away, said sources.
Protesters alleged that the plant was polluting ground water in their area.
Sterlite Copper represents the copper unit of Vedanta Limited, which operates a 4,00,000 tonne-per-annum plant in Thoothukudi, more popularly called Tuticorin.
DMK, Makkal Needhi Maiam, Rajni Condemn Tense Situation
DMK working president MK Stalin, in a Facebook post, hit out at the ruling AIADMK government over the tense situation, blaming the government for turning a blind eye to the people's movement in Thoothukudi. Stalin also demanded closure of the plant at the earliest.
AIADMK government is responsible for the violence in Tuticorin. They never bothered to find a solution to the people’s problem in that area. They were negligent. I strongly condemn the govt for not providing adequate security despite knowing about the protest beforehand. In wake of these protests, TN govt should immediately ensure closure of Sterlite plant.MK Stalin, DMK working president, in a Facebook post
Congress President Rahul Gandhi called the killings as a brutal example of “state sponsored terrorism.”
Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam also condemned the firing by the police in Thoothukudi.
“Kamal Haasan's Makkal Needhi Maiam condemns the open fire in Tuticorin. The peaceful protest by the people of Tuticorin against Sterlite, demanding justice was ignored by the governments. Negligence of the Governments is the reason for all the unfortunate incidents. Citizens are not criminals. They are ones who lose their lives; earlier due to Sterlite and now due to the Government’s orders. Everybody should maintain peace!” the press release stated.
Condemning the police firing, actor Rajinikanth said the Tamil Nadu government’s inaction is responsible for the loss in Tuticorin.
“The government should take responsibility for the loss of life and violence,” he conveyed in a tweet.
In a tweet, actor Vishal offered his deepest condolences for the lives lost during the protests. He asked PM Modi to break his silence over the protests.
“BJP says protest is a form of democracy, so why can’t people do the same?” the Kollywood actor questioned the ruling party in his tweet.
(With inputs from PTI)