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Deaths in Sterlite protests brutal murder, akin to Jallianwala massacre: Opposition

DMK’s MK Stalin accused the police of atrocities and asked whether there was any other way to tackle the protesters calling for the shutdown of the Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi.

india Updated: May 23, 2018 15:00 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Thoothukudi‬,MK Stalin,‪Sterlite Copper‬
Injured people being taken for treatment at a government hospital following an agitation demanding the closure of Vedanta's Sterlite Copper unit in Tuticorin on Tuesday. (PTI)

The Tamil Nadu government came in for sharp criticism on Wednesday for opening fire on protesters demanding closure of the Sterlite plant in Tuticorin. Nine people were killed in the police action on Tuesday.

While DMK called the deaths ‘brutal murder’, MDMK likened the incident to the British era Jallianwala Bagh massacre and Congress called it ‘state-sponsored terrorism’

DMK leader MK Stalin tweeted a photo of what appears to be a cop in plain clothes pointing his gun at the protesters with the title, “Mass Murder of Innocent People”

“Where does the final accountability lie for the brutal murder of at least 11 Tamils? Will @CMOTamilNadu take action against DGP for failing to maintain law and order? Will Chief Secretary explain her role in this entire episode? Will there be justice for #SterliteProtest?” Stalin wrote.

Questioning the state government role, Stalin asked adequate police presence to maintain law and order was not provided? “Is it accurate to say that there was a total failure of state intelligence which led to these unfortunate deaths? he asked.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday also condemned the use of force against the protesters and called it “a brutal example of state-sponsored terrorism”.

“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,” he tweeted.

Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami ordered an inquiry into the shootings but defended the police.

“The police had to take action under unavoidable circumstances to protect public life and property as the protesters resorted to repeated violence... police had to control the violence,” he said in a statement.

Actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan, who met those injured during the protest on Tuesday, also attacked the AIADMK government saying,”We must know who ordered this firing. It is not me but the victims who are demanding this.”

The Makkal Needhi Maiam chief said merely announcing compensation was not a solution. “This industry must be shut and this is what people demand,” Haasan added.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) also held a protest in Coimbatore against the police firing on protesters.

Opposition parties including PMK, DMDK, Congress, and the MNM slammed the violence and police action, while actor Rajinikanth, who is slated to launch his political party, held the government responsible for the deaths.

On Tuesday, people protested for hours calling for the closure of the plant owned by British-based mining giant Vedanta Resources and run by its subsidiary Sterlite Copper. Some 20 police were also injured in the clashes.

Residents have been protesting for months against the plant as environmentalists and locals allege the plant is contaminating water resources, a charge denied by the company.

Decades-old stir against Sterlite plant rages on
Nine people died on Tuesday in police firing after the anti-Sterlite protests turned violent in Toothukudi as protesters allegedly attacked the district collectorate demanding closure of plant. The violence has brought the decades-old protest back in the spotlight.
May 1995: Environmental clearances given to the plant, construction begins
October 1996: Plant starts operating, almost immediately clearances challenged before the Madras high court
August 1997: Protests begin after complaints of air and water pollution.
November 1998: Interim order by the high court to close the plant, but reopened weeks later after company agrees to put pollution safeguards
January 2001: Complaints by locals of polluted water and release of toxic waste water from the plant
September 2010: Madras high court orders closure of the plant over pollution concerns but reopened less than a week later after Supreme Court stays the order
March 2013: Tamil Nadu pollution control board orders closure of the plant after a gas leak
April 2013: Supreme Court fines Sterlite Rs 100 crore for pollution but doesn¡¦t order closure of the plant
May 2016: Madras high court dismisses petition challenging expansion on the grounds that no public consultation was held
February 2018: Fresh protests after reports that Sterlite is looking to expand the plant and increase capacity
March 2018: Plant shuts for maintenance
April 2018: Tamil Nadu pollution control board refuses to renew plant’s license

The protests have intensified after Vedanta sought to expand the plant. It was shut briefly after an alleged gas leak in March 2013 that left hundreds with breathing difficulties, nausea and throat infections.

The factory was also shut in 2001 after it was found to have disposed mercury waste without following proper protocol.

(With agency inputs)

First Published: May 23, 2018 11:47 IST