Tuticorin: Police Lathi-Charges Protestors; Madras HC Stays Sterlite Expansion

The Tamil Nadu government has appointed a one-person commission of inquiry, headed by a retired judge of the Madras high court, to probe the violence at Tuticorin.

New Delhi: The Madras high court today stayed the expansion of Vedanta’s Sterlite industrial plant in Thoothukudi (Tuticorin), Tamil Nadu. The bench also said that the company must engage in public consultations before it expands the unit, Indian Express reported.

The company had sought environmental clearance to expand the plant in February 2016.

“Vedanta shall cease construction and all other activities on-site proposed Unit-II of the Copper Smelting Plant at Tuticorin (Thoothukudi) with immediate effect,” the order from the court said.

It ordered authorities to hold a public hearing over Vedanta’s application for environmental clearance and said a decision on environment approval would be completed within a period of four months.

The petitioner in the case, Fatima Babu told Indian Express, “Even if it is an interim stay, the court has ordered for public consultation within four months time for any further expansion. We welcome this order.”

The plant, one of the country’s biggest, has been shut for more than 50 days and will remain closed until at least June 6 because the local pollution regulator has said the facility is not complying with environmental rules.

Residents and activists say emissions from the smelter are polluting the air and the water, affecting the health of residents and pose a risk to fisheries.

This Madras high court order comes a day after 11 people were killed in anti-Sterlite protests in the coastal city. Tuesday was the 100th day of the current agitation, and about 15,000 people were marching in the city, demanding that the plant be shut down.

The police is facing widespread criticism for its use of force, with many saying that the police firing was pre-planned.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has condemned the police firing and demanded that the Sterlite plant be shut down immediately. “The protests arose because of the inadequate response of the state administration to the genuine apprehensions of the people concerning air, water and ground contamination. The Politburo demands that plant should be shut down immediately. The state government should hold talks with all stake-holders,” the party said in its statement.

The company has expressed “sorrow and regret” over the deaths in a statement. “It’s with great sorrow and regret that we witnessed today’s incidents around the protest today at Tuticorin. The company has appealed to government and authorities to ensure the safety of our employees, facilities and surrounding communities. Sterlite Copper plant is non-operational as we await approval for the consent to operate,” Hindustan Times quoted the statement as saying.

Police lathi charges protestors

Tension today continued to prevail in the city, with two police vehicles being torched and police lathi-charging people who tried to enter a hospital to meet those wounded in Tuesday’s violence.

Two police buses parked in a residential neighbourhood were set on fire by unidentified persons and while the blaze was put out in one vehicle, another was almost completely gutted.

A section of people who allegedly tried to enter the general hospital premises were baton-charged, the police said. Entry to the hospital was highly regulated and when hundreds of people tried to visit the wounded in the facility at the same time, they were “dispersed using mild force”, they said.

Police personnel from neighbouring districts have also been posted to the city and police patrols have been intensified.

State government initiates inquiry

The Tamil Nadu government on Wednesday appointed a one-person commission of inquiry, headed by a retired judge of the Madras high court, to probe the violence at Tuticorin.

The inquiry will cover the “law and order incidents following the siege of the District Collectorate by thousands of persons violating prohibitory orders,” an official release said.

Appointing retired Judge Aruna Jagadeesan for the task, the government said she would submit her report to the government. However, the time frame for submitting the report has not been specified.

(With agency inputs)