Calling the police action on anti-Sterlite protesters in Tuticorin (Thoothkudi) a “damning indictment of the state government’s determination to crush the protests”, Amnesty International India scathingly criticised the Tamil Nadu Police on Wednesday for the incident which left 12 dead in the city since Tuesday and scores injured.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Abhirr VP, Senior Campaigner, Amnesty International India, said, “The Tamil Nadu police were shockingly underprepared to peacefully control protests of this magnitude. Despite knowing there would be a massive protest on Tuesday, the state police did little to implement crowd control measures that would have avoided the need to resort to force.”
Demanding that those responsible for the deaths and injuries caused to protesters must be brought to justice, Abhirr said that the Tamil Nadu police have many questions to answer.
“Excessive use of force is not the answer to crowd control. Police should only use force as a last resort, and such force should only be used when strictly unavoidable to protect life. Police must be able to distinguish between persons engaging in violence and peaceful demonstrators or bystanders,” he added.
It was the 100th day of the protest against the Sterlite copper smelting plant in Tuticorin on Tuesday when the state police opened fire on the protestors. Police said that it resorted to firing as thousands of people gathered in defiance of prohibitory orders at the District Collector’s office and engaged in violence.
The protesters alleged that police had used force without provocation on the peaceful gathering.
While 11 died till Tuesday, another man was killed in fresh police firing on the protesters on Wednesday. Reports of clashes between protesters and security personnel continued to be reported from the coastal town of Tamil Nadu. The number of injured also went up following the fresh agitation.
Local residents are against the proposed expansion of a copper smelter at the Sterlite unit, and have been protesting since February this year, over pollution concerns. According to them, all water bodies in the region have been contaminated by the pollution generated by the unit. As a result, they claim, many of them are facing severe health problems.
Environment activists agree with the locals. Claiming that copper smelting leads to various kinds of pollution, they have said such plants should be located far away from any residential area. On 24 March 2018, thousands of Thoothukudi residents came out on the streets demanding closure of the copper unit’s operations, after which the unit was shut down on 27 March for 15 days citing “maintenance work”.