Thoothukudi: TN govt, police guilty

Tuticorin: Smoke billows from a buring bus during protests demanding the closure of Vedanta's Sterlite Copper unit, in Tuticorin, on Wednesday. In fresh violence today, one person was killed during the clash, after police's open fire killing at least ten

The police firing on those who protested against pollution caused by the Sterlite copper plant in Thoothukudi, in which 13 people were killed, was reprehensible and totally unjustifiable. Both the state administration and the police are guilty because they allowed the situation to develop into a serious crisis and then tried to deal with it with extreme violence. There were protests by local people against the plant ever since it was set up in 1997. The present phase of the agitation started 100 days ago and it was well known that there would be a show of strength and confrontation on Tuesday. The police acted with brutality and probably with a pre-planned intention to kill the protesters. This was clear from the fact that they opened fire without a warning, snipers were used, and an officer was heard ordering that at least one person should be killed.

The Tamil Nadu government failed to see the gravity of the situation and to tackle it with good sense. Its intelligence failed to make out the course and nature of the protests. There is no point in blaming anti-social elements who infiltrated the protesters’ ranks. That happens during most protests. The protesters, most of whom were local residents, had genuine complaints against the plant, which has polluted the environment and endangered their health and livelihoods. Five years ago, the plant was ordered to be shut down, but the management got the order reversed as the government could not prove its charges in the court. The Supreme Court had, however, imposed a Rs 100-crore fine on the company for violation of environmental norms. The state pollution control board actually refused to renew the company’s licence in March this year. Even in these circumstances, the company was moving ahead to expand capacity. The latest protests were mainly directed against those expansion plans, which the Madras high court has now stayed. 

The unit is owned by the UK-based Vedanta Group. Its officials have not cared to address the concerns of the local people. Copper smelting is a polluting industry. If the company is not ready to put a complete end to pollution, it should not be allowed to function. The fears and concerns of the people should be completely removed. The judicial enquiry ordered by the government is not competent to pass judgement on the matter. The company must be made to compensate the families of the dead and to pay for the damage it has caused to the environment. The policemen who took the law into their hands should also be punished. 

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Thoothukudi: TN govt, police guilty

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