Tamil Nadu is on the boil after the police crackdown on protests against the planned expansion of Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi killed 13 people on Tuesday and Wednesday. The police opened fire to dispel crowds after the agitation turned violent on Tuesday, which marked the 100th day of a protest campaign against the plant. On Wednesday, protests continued to rage in the port town and have now spread to Chennai .
People who live in the vicinity of the factory have been complaining for years that Sterlite’s copper smelter has been contaminating the air and water in the area, causing health problems. The protests began in February, after residents learnt that Sterlite was planning to double the plant’s capacity. On Wednesday, the Madras High Court stayed the expansion in the wake of the agitations.
The police response and the Edappadi K Palaniswami-led AIADMK state government’s strong-armed handling of the protests has met with strong criticism from all quarters. Videos and images ostensibly showing police officers taking aim at protesters from the top of their vehicles have gone viral. Opposition leaders have likened the crackdown to a massacre. Questions have been raised about why the police felt the need to shoot at protesters instead of trying non-lethal methods to disperse the crowds.
This alleged police brutality was a theme of several political cartoons over Wednesday and Thursday. The tacit government support that allows conglomerates to expand rapidly, allegedly in violation of environmental norms, was another strand of the cartoons.