The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court on Friday directed the Tamil Nadu government to explain the reasons and the circumstances that led to the police firing on protestors in Thoothukudi on May 22. The court has sought a reply from the state government by June 6, ANI reported.

The court was hearing a petition demanding that a murder case be filed against the state police chief. The plea also sought an inquiry by a special investigation team. The court asked the state police to not disturb the families of the protestors who are missing in the name of inquiry.

Thirteen people agitating against the expansion of the Vedanta Group’s Sterlite Copper plant in the coastal town were killed in the firing by security personnel.

According to the First Information Reports filed at three police stations, officers of the rank of deputy tehsildars ordered the police to open fire at protestors in Thoothukudi. The FIRs blamed the protestors for the violence, saying it had forced officials to issue orders to fire at them.

Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami had defended the police action, blaming “certain political parties, non-governmental organisations and anti-social elements” for the violence in Thoothukudi. “If someone is attacked, the natural course would be to defend and safeguard themselves,” he had said. “This is what has been done by the police in response.”

The Tamil Nadu government ordered the closure of the smelter on Monday and the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu cancelled the land allotted to Vedanta for the proposed expansion of the plant the next day. The land price collected for the land allotment will be refunded.

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 ran the copper smelter with the capacity to produce 4.38 lakh tonnes of anodes per annum, or 1,200 tonnes per day.