At least nine people were killed after the Tamil Nadu Police allegedly shot at people protesting against Sterlite Copper’s smelter in Thoothukudi district, The Indian Express reported. Several protestors have been injured in the demonstrations, The Hindu reported.
“We are trying to bring the situation under control. People of Thoothukudi need not worry,” Tamil Nadu Director General of Police TK Rajendran said, adding that the police are trying to find out if the protestors died in the firing or in stone pelting.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami said the police had to resort to firing to control the situation because the protestors indulged in violence. “Around 20,000 people marched towards Sterlite plant in Thoothukudi and torched police vehicles and vehicles parked inside collectorate,” The New Indian Express quoted Palaniswami as saying. “They also pelted stones on collectorate.”
He also urged people to stay calm and said that the government respects the feelings of the people and will take appropriate action on the matter. The chief minister announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh each to the families of those killed during the protest and Rs 3 lakh each for the injured, reported ANI. He said an judicial inquiry commission would be set up to investigate the incident and promised government jobs for family members of those who were killed.
One of the deaths occurred near the district collectorate, where hundreds of residents had gathered even though the administration had imposed prohibitory orders in view of the scheduled protest. The demonstrators later set the collectorate office on fire in protest against the alleged police firing. They allegedly pelted stones at police officials and damaged police vehicles. They also blocked roads and the railway track. The police responded by firing tear gas shells.
Meanwhile, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam working president M K Stalin met the state’s chief secretary regarding the anti-Sterlite protests, reported News 18. Stalin told ANI that he will be visiting Thoothukudi on Wednesday to meet the families of those who were killed and injured in the shooting.
‘Brutal example of state sponsored terrorism’
Congress President Rahul Gandhi said the incident was a “brutal example of state sponsored terrorism”. “These citizens were murdered for protesting against injustice,” Gandhi said on Twitter. “My thoughts [and] prayers are with the families of these martyrs and the injured.”
Actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan’s party Makkal Needhi Maiam condemned the violence and blamed the government for its negligence, reported The Indian Express. “The peaceful protest by the people of Tuticorin against Sterlite, demanding justice was ignored by the governments,” a party statement read.
Actor Rajinikanth tweeted that the government does not respect the sentiments of the people. “The Tamil Nadu govt is responsible for the violence and the loss of lives.”
For over two decades, activists in Thoothukudi have accused Sterlite of contaminating the region’s air and water resources. Since February, there have been large-scale protests in Thoothukudi, where the Sterlite runs the copper smelter with the capacity to produce 4.38 lakh tonnes of copper anodes per annum, or 1,200 tonnes per day.