10 Dead And 50 Injured On The 100th Day Of Protest Against Vedanta's Sterlite In Tamil Nadu
10 dead and 50 others were injured when police opened fire during a protest against Sterlite Copper unit in Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu. To mark the 100th day of the protest for the closure of the plant, the protesters decided to march towards the Collector’s office. The reason the protestors/residents cite is that the pollution it generates is causing serious health issues.
What led to the violence?
This mass protest on May 22 was organised beforehand and several hundreds of protesters rallied to the collectorate campus. Most shops in the town were also shut down after the calls of protest from Thoothukudi town central traders association.
District collector N Venkatesh issued prohibitory order section 144 in view of the scheduled protest, while granting permission to protest only at the SAV ground near Thoothukudi old bus stand, reported The New Indian Express.
This took a violent turn when police prevented the protesters from marching towards the plant. In an angry retaliation, the protesters set Thoothukudi Collector office premises and the quarters of Sterlite employees on fire.
The protesters pushed back the police in riot gear and started hurling stones at them. The security personnel lobbed teargas shells to disperse them. The protesters also overturned a police vehicle and then set another vehicle on fire. At Madathur, police had to resort to a mild lathi-charge at Madathur to disperse the public gathering.
— Godson Wisely Dass S (@tnie_godson) May 22, 2018
Police said section 144 of CrPc has been invoked in and around the Sterlite unit to provide security to it as per the orders of the Madras High Court, reported The Times of India.
DMK slammed AIADMK government for being unable to handle the situation. In his Twitter account MK Stalin, DMK working President wrote: “ADMK 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 knowledge of the protest beforehand. In wake of these protests, TN govt should immediately ensure closure of Sterlite plant”
“This seems like an effort by the police to stop protests against Sterlite. Discussion are required in this matter. People have carried out a huge revolution but police have turned it violent. They have even shot people and this regrettable. I condemn the actions of the police,” said Stalin.
Last massive protest
15,000 residents of Thoothukudi gathered on March 24, 2018, with the demand of closing down Vedanta Sterlite’s copper smelting plant. The protest, which reminded everyone of the 2017 Jallikattu protest in Chennai’s Marina beach, was organised using social media. Their main demand? “Ban Sterlite”. Alleging years of air and soil pollution, they demanded the closure of the company.
The wrath against the copper plant is not something new. In March 2013, people complained that they were facing difficulties to breathe, nausea, throat infection and alleged a gas leak from Sterlite Industries plant. The plant was ordered to be closed for a while after the allegations but later the National Green Tribunal let the plant reopen after some time.
How did Sterlite come to Tamil Nadu?
In 1992, Sterlite acquired 500 acres of land in Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation to set up a 60,000 tonne per annum copper smelter and associated facilities in the coastal district of Ratnagiri, reported The News Minute.
After a year of protests by the local people, who were scared of the smelter and also feared the degeneration of the fragile coastline, the Ratnagiri district collector issued a notice and asked them to cease all construction work.
In 1994, they set their foot in Tamil Nadu. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) gave them a No Objection Certificate with the condition that no construction can be done within the 25-km of Gulf of Mannar. But, they flouted these rules and built the plant in its 14-km radius. The other things that they were asked to do were to build a green-belt in a 25 mts radius and not contaminate the groundwater.
Sterlite employees almost 1000 permanent employees and more 1000 employees on a contractual basis.
DMK Chief M.K. Stalin showed his support to the residents of the town. He said that the alleged violations at the existing factory complex need to be investigated and even the existing plant should be closed if found in violation of norms and laws. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has been singled out for criticism. He has said that “The TNPCB which ought to have paid keen attention to and taken strong steps to Sterlite’s operations has failed to do its job, and this has resulted in the continued sufferings of hundreds of children, women and the elderly of this district who are victims of cancer and other diseases and are fighting for their lives in hospitals around Tamil Nadu.”