In a major development, the Madras High Court on Wednesday stayed the expansion of the Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi (Tuticorin).
The development comes a day after at least 11 people were killed in police firing as protests against the Sterlite expansion plans turned violent in Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu.
The company had filed an application to obtain environmental clearance to expand its plant in the coastal city in February 2018. The plan entails to doubling of the capacity of its copper smelter to 800,000 tonnes per year.
On Tuesday, the protest had entered its 100th day. The agitators have been demanding the closure of the plant run by the Vedanta Group.
The police, who tried to control the protesters, initially lobbed tear gas shells and resorted to baton charge. As the protesters defied prohibitory orders on the 100th day of their agitation and allegedly attacked the District Collectorate, the police resorted to firing.
The violence also left at least 60 people injured, among them were policemen too. Many of them were admitted to hospitals. Protesters could be seen pelting the police force with stones. Some vehicles were set on fire and many others were damaged.
On Wednesday, actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan visited the site and met injured protesters in hospital. DMK leader M K Stalin is also slated to head for Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu later in the day.
Earlier on Wednesday, Leader of the Opposition Stalin questioned police action against the protesters in Tuticorin.
He took to Twitter and said: “Who ordered the police firing on protestors? Why were automatic weapons used to disperse the crowd and under what law is this permitted? Why were rubber/ plastic bullets or other means NOT used to avoid fatal injuries? Why was no warning given before firing? #SterliteProtest”
Where does the final accountability lie for the brutal murder of at least 11 Tamils? Will @CMOTamilNadu take action against DGP for failing to maintain law and order? Will Chief Secretary explain her role in this entire episode? Will there be justice for #SterliteProtest ?
— M.K.Stalin (@mkstalin) May 23, 2018
In the latest development, security has been heightened in Tuticorin and Section 144 remains imposed in the area.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday termed the death of protesters a “brutal example of state sponsored terrorism”.
“The gunning down by the police of 9 people in the Sterlite protest in Tamil Nadu is a brutal example of state sponsored terrorism. These citizens were murdered for protesting against injustice. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of these martyrs and the injured,” he tweeted.
The gunning down by the police of 9 people in the #SterliteProtest in Tamil Nadu, is a brutal example of state sponsored terrorism. These citizens were murdered for protesting against injustice. My thoughts & prayers are with the families of these martyrs and the injured.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) May 22, 2018
The Tamil Nadu government on Tuesday had ordered a judicial inquiry into the police firing in the state’s Toothukudi. The inquiry will be conducted by a retired judge.
Expressing his condolences on the deaths, Chief Minister K Palaniswamy announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the kin of the deceased and a job for a suitable family member. He also announced Rs 3 lakh for those seriously injured and Rs 1 lakh each for the other injured.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also condemned the police action expressed sympathies for the families of people who died.
“I just landed in Bengaluru to the shocking news about the incident near the Sterlite Tuticorin plant. My thoughts and prayers with the people of Tamil Nadu at this hour of grief.
“My deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives and hope the injured recover soon,” Banerjee said in a tweet.
The police action followed months-long agitation demanding the closure of Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper unit in Tuticorin, about 600 km from Chennai over pollution concerns.