A coalition of civil society organisations in Tamil Nadu has demanded an immediate ban on Sterlite following the death of 15 protestors in police firing on May 22 at Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu.
‘Coordinating Committee for People’s Inquest into Thoothukudi Police Firing’ organised by People’s Inquest (PI) on June 2-3, 2018 at Thoothukudi and its suburbs, into the targeted kllings, has recommended that the plant should be dismantled and the area cleared.
As per the latest records, 15 protestors were killed and more than a hundred severely injured in protests against the Sterlite Copper plant. May 22, 2018, marked the 100th day of protests against the Sterlite Copper plant.
A memorial for those killed by the police should be created by the TN Government, an importantly, establish who ordered the shooting and killing and make them accountable as per the law, and action against those who were responsible for the killings, injuries and continuous unlawful search, assault and harassment of the people are some other major recommendations of the inquest.
The inquest was done by a 23-member committee comprising people from different walks of life and the objectives of the inquest were to ascertain the facts that led to the continued protests in Tuticorin over the years and particularly in the last 100 days, to ascertain the facts and circumstances of the incidents which lead to the police firing through gathering statements from eye-witnesses, family of the deceased, meeting the officials from Tuticorin district administration, Tuticorin district police department, representatives of the Anti-Sterlite protest committee and to ascertain who authorized the firing and under what circumstances.
Sterlite Copper started its operations in Tamil Nadu in 1996 by setting up a plant in Tuticorin district. Sterlite Cooper known as Sterlite Industrial India Ltd. is a a unit of Vedanta group that has setup smelter, refinery, acid plant, and copper road plant in the land allocated them in State Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu. There have been numerous complaints against the company of harming the environment and breaking the government environmental regulations. There are numerous reports which suggests that the company with help of its money power and political clout have gotten away with breaking laws.
The Thoothukudi Administration had called for a ‘peace meeting’, inviting the organisations and protesting villages’ representatives on May 20, 2018, prior to the community rally on May 22, 2018. It has been learnt from people’s testimonies that the administration used a selective approach in inviting the organisations and protesting villages’ representatives for the said meeting. People with whom the PI team interacted in Thoothukudi allege this to be a deliberate attempt of the administration to divide the anti-Sterlite movement. It has also been brought to the notice of the PI team that invitation sentto one such organisation (Makkal Adhikaram) was done to an individual who had no association with that organisation.
The administration didn’t ensure that all organisations and individuals involved in anti-Sterlite movement are communicated with. The PI team observes that the district administration negotiating with only one set of the organisers made the bona fides of the administration suspect in the eyes of the people.
The People’s Inquest (PI) team observes with grave concerns about the absence of the District Collector (DC) in the above mentioned meeting. The meeting was led by the Thoothukudi Superintendent of Police (SP) along with the Sub Collector. As the head of the district administration, it was the DC who should have led the meeting and reached out to the people. This would have been more respectful to the people who have been protesting for close to 100 days. Role of the SP is solely towards maintaining law and order. Given that the protests were seen only as a law and order issue and the demands of the people overlooked, do raise doubts on the intentions of the district and state administration.
The PI team observes several gaps in Section 144 imposition. The administration was fully aware about the anti-Sterlite protests at District Collectorate on May 22, 2018 well in advance and despite that waited till its eve for imposing Section 144, which do appear only symbolic. Section 144 was imposed only at 8PM on May 21, 2018. As gathered from people’s testimonies, after the Section 144 imposition, announcements were not made by the administration in most areas, to reach the information to the people. People got to know about the same only through television news around 9:30 PM on May 21, 2018 and in the newspapers the next day. It is evident that these channels were too late to communicate to the people and wouldn’t have deterred the protesters who were entering into the 100th days of the peaceful anti-Sterlite protests. It is important to note, given that Section 144 was imposed in only two PS jurisdictions, there was no legal restriction on the protesters to walk for as many as 15 kilometres, to enable them to reach and assemble at the District Collectorate.
The PI team observes that there has been clear irregularity in the process through which Section 144 was imposed and implemented. The DC has abdicated all his responsibilities.