Five days after 13 anti-Sterlite protesters died in police firing and lathicharge, Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam arrived in Tuticorin (Thoothukudi) on Monday to enquire about the health of those injured in the violence. The police action had invited severe criticism for the ruling AIADMK government.
Speaking to reporters after his visit to the hospital, Panneerselvam assured that his government would take all necessary steps to close the Sterlite copper smelter plant owned by Vedanta Ltd.
“We will take all possible steps to ensure that the Sterlite Copper plant is shut down in Tuticorin,” Panneerselvam said.
Accompanied by Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar, Panneerselvam met the injured persons and their families.
The Deputy CM also said compensation to the injured was being paid.
Meanwhile, normalcy is gradually returning to Tuticorin, with shops and other establishments opening for customers.
Internet connectivity, which was suspended for five days from 23 May, resumed on Sunday midnight.
Locals had been protesting against the expansion plans of Sterlite plant since early February. On 22 May, their 100th day of agitation, police opened fire on the anti-Sterlite protesters. While many died the same day, others, including one who had been reportedly hit with batons, succumbed to injuries subsequently.
The entire opposition in Tamil Nadu came down heavily on the government for the police action. Leading names from the Tamil film industry, which wields tremendous influence in the state’s politics, condemned the killing of the protesters and slammed Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami’s government.
“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?” asked DMK working president MK Stalin, who has been leading the opposition against the ruling government in the state.
DMK and other opposition parties in Tamil Nadu held a dawn-to-dusk bandh on 25 May.
In a video posted on Twitter, the 67-year-old Rajinikanth criticised the AIADMK-led Tamil Nadu government. Speaking in Tamil and offering condolences to the families of those who lost their lives, Rajinikanth said, “I condemn the carelessness of the government, failure of the state machinery and the police brutality in the Sterlite protests.”
Rajinikanth accused the government led by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisami of not respecting the sentiments of the people and directly held the government responsible for the deaths.
Kamal Haasan, who is now the chief of Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM), met some of those injured during the violence at the General Hospital in Thoothukudi on Wednesday.
Haasan was surrounded by grieving relatives who asked him repeatedly to see what the state government had done to their dear ones. The 63-year-old leader consoled them and said that no amount of compensation given to those who had died would be enough.
According to reports, Haasan claimed that the shooting was engineered to satisfy someone. He demanded that it is important to know “who ordered to shoot yesterday”.
On Wednesday, 23 May, the Madras High Court stayed the expansion of the Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi.
The state government also transferred Collector N Venkatesh and Superintendent of Police P Mahendran in the wake of opposition parties seeking action against the top two Tuticorin district officials over the violence.
But on Thursday Palaniswami defended the police action during the anti-Sterlite plant protest saying “when someone hits you, you naturally tend to defend yourselves. So on such situations, no one acts in a pre-planned manner”.
According to protesters, all water bodies in the region have been contaminated by the pollution generated by the Sterlite unit.
As a result, they claim, many of them are facing severe health problems. Environment activists agree with the locals.