The Tamil Nadu government on Wednesday suspended internet services in Thoothukudi, Kanyakumari and Tirunelveli districts of Tamil Nadu after one person was killed in Thoothukudi and three were injured in fresh violence. This came a day after 11 people were killed and many more injured in police firing on a protest against the expansion of the Vedanta Group’s Sterlite Copper plant in the coastal town.
“Provocative messages are spread in social media violently with half truth and anti-social elements are trying to exploit the situation,” the government said in its order.
Police opened fire in the Thoothukudi’s Anna Nagar locality to bring the “situation under control”, according to an official statement of the Thoothukudi police. Local reports said a police officer was injured after protestors pelted stones at them.
The state government on Wednesday transferred Superintendent of Police (Thoothukudi) P Mahendran as deputy commission of police (traffic), Greater Chennai. Murali Rambha, SP (Nilgiris), was appointed the superintendent of police of Thoothukudi.
The government also transferred the district collector of Thoothukudi, N Venkatesh as additional state project director of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan project.
Earlier in the day, unidentified people set a police bus on fire near the town’s government hospital. Another police van was also burnt, local reports said. A number of people had gathered at the hospital – where the bodies of people who died in Tuesday’s protests have been kept – despite the prohibitory orders that are in place, The New Indian Express reported.
Protestors hurled petrol bombs and stones in front of the hospital, according to the police statement. The police resorted to baton charge and fired tear gas shells to disperse the protestors. At least 65 protestors were detained on Wednesday, police said.
Several police personnel walked around the town with loudspeakers, appealing for calm. “Public should not indulge in such activities,” they urged. “Please stay safe inside your houses. People of Thoothukudi should cooperate with police.”
Thousands of local residents participated in Tuesday’s protests, which turned violent after the police barricaded the route to the collector’s office. Although the Tamil Nadu government named nine people who were killed, Governor Banwarilal Purohit put the number at 11 on Tuesday evening. Several protestors were injured.
For more than two decades, activists in Thoothukudi have accused Sterlite of contaminating the region’s air and water resources, causing breathing disorders, skin diseases, heart conditions and cancer. 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.
Politicians blame government
Pattali Makkal Katchi’s Anbumani Ramadoss accused the police of committing murder in cold blood. “They should be booked for murder,” The New Indian Express quoted him as saying. “SP, Collector, DGP and Chief Secretary should be suspended. Taking moral responsibility, CM Edappadi K Palaniswami should resign.”
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s MK Stalin also demanded the resignation of Palaniswami and Director General of Police TK Rajendran, reported PTI. “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?” Stalin said in a tweet.
Tamil Nadu Congress Committee President Thirunavukarasu also blamed the government for the “Thoothukudi massacre”, and asked it to heed public opinion and close the plant.
Stalin and Makkal Needhi Maiam’s Kamal Haasan met several injured protestors at the government hospital. The police have filed a case against Haasan and some of his party workers for visiting Thoothukudi in violation of the prohibitory orders, some reports said.
The Centre for Science and Environment condemned the deaths of protestors and said the present situation reflects “complete failure” of environmental governance in the country, reported PTI. It said people’s interests should be looked into over the company’s business interests and recommended permanent closure of the plant.
“Considering the history of this plant, the residents were justified in protesting against the expansion,” said the centre’s director general Sunita Narain. “This plant has polluted the environment and flouted standards with impunity for the past 20 years.”
Human rights group Amnesty International India said the excessive use of force by the Tamil Nadu police is a “damning indictment” of the state government’s determination to crush the protests, according to PTI.