Thoothukudi (Tamil Nadu), May 23: One more person was killed in fresh police firing here on Wednesday as the killing of 11 people protesting against the Sterlite Copper Smelting plant a day earlier sparked calls for the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister’s resignation.
Worried over the persistent mass anger, the authorities suspended Internet in the districts of Thoothukudi or Tuticorin, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari as a precaution to stop the spread of rumours and graphic pictures and videos of the violence and clashes between the protesters and police. But the town continued to smoulder for a second day as thousands demonstrated outside the main hospital opposing the autopsy on those killed on Tuesday when police opened fire alleging that mobs had gone on the rampage and were about to vandalize the Collectorate. The fresh death on Wednesday only added to anger of the demonstrators and the opposition parties.
On Tuesday, police firing killed 11 people, most of them from nearby villages who were demanding the closure of the Sterlite Copper smelting plant they said was destroying the farm lands and leading to severe health issues in the region. On Wednesday, the police fired at crowds in Anna Nagar, killing a young man. The demonstrators insisted that the police action was unprovoked. The police accused the crowds of stoning the police.
Police also fired tear gas at a crowd massed outside the Government Hospital in the town where the bodies of those killed on Tuesday were kept. As Chief Minister K. Palaniswami held a series of meetings with top government officials and the police chief on how to contain the situation, the government set up a probe committee headed by former Madras High Court judge Aruna Jagadeesan to probe the mayhem.
Meanwhile, the Madras High Court stayed the construction of Vedanta Ltd’s Copper Smelter Plant 2 at Tuticorin, some 650 km from Chennai. The Madurai bench of the High Court gave this direction on a PIL against the expansion of the company’s plant. The court ruled that the application for environmental clearance must be taken up only after mandatory public hearing and ordered that a decision on this must be taken by September 23.
The Vedanta Ltd, which has decided to double its copper smelting capacity to 800,000 tpa, on Wednesday denied any role in the police action. The plant is popularly known as Sterlite Copper smelter plant. Condemning the police action, DMK leader M.K. Stalin said all opposition parties in Tamil Nadu will hold protests on Friday. The parties include the DMK, MDMK, Congress, MMK, CPI, CPI-M and VCK.
“It is shocking that even though protests on the issue have been going on for over three months, the Chief Minister has not shown any inclination towards holding talks with people,” Stalin said.
The National Alliance of People’s Movements, in a statement signed by founder Medha Patkar and many others, blamed the killing on the police and district officials, the Tamil Nadu government as well as the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. “Yesterday was a bloody culmination of over two decades of blatant disregard for the lives and well-being of the people and protecting corporate interest,” it said. Actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan visited Tuticorin on Wednesday and demanded to know who ordered the police firing. “It is not me but the victims who are asking this. Merely announcing compensation isn’t a solution. This industry must be shut and this is what people demand,” he said. DMDK founder Vijayakanth urged the Prime Minister to ensure that the Sterlite plant was shut down permanently.
Nearly 100 people were injured in the violence on Tuesday, including 36 policemen. Normal life in the town was virtually crippled on Wednesday, with shops and commercial establishments not opening for business. Educational institutions remained closed. District Collector N. Venkatesh said the prohibitory orders were extended in Vembar, Kulathur, Arumugamangalam, Vedanatham, Ottapidaram and Eppodum Vendran in the district. Public transport has been suspended from Thoothukudi to other parts of Tamil Nadu. Police and paramilitary personnel were deployed all over the town in large numbers. (IANS)