Chennai: At least one more person was killed and five more were injured in fresh police firing in Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin town on Wednesday, taking the death toll since Tuesday’s violent anti-Sterlite protests to 12.
Enraged over Tuesday's killings, protesters took to streets and showered stones and brickbats at police, prompting security personnel to open fire at Anna Nagar. The body of the man killed in firing, and those injured have been rushed to a government hospital. The SP of Tuticorin was also injured in the clashes, police said.
The Madras High Court, while hearing a PIL against the police firing, ordered that the bodies of those killed will be preserved and autopsies will be conducted at the government hospital. The Tamil Nadu government has also appointed a retired high court judge to head a one-member inquiry committee to probe the killings.
Tension, meanwhile, continued to prevail in the city as two police vehicles were torched and police baton-charged people who forcefully tried to enter a hospital to meet those wounded in the violence. Two police buses parked in a residential neighbourhood were also set on fire.
Police personnel from neighbouring districts have been called in to maintain the law and order and police patrols have been intensified. The central government has also offered to send in additional forces if the situation demands.
Violence had broken out on Tuesday during protest for the closure of Vedanta group's Sterlite Copper plant over pollution concerns, resulting in the death of 11 people.
Opposition parties in the state stepped up the attack in the AIADMK government, dubbing the police action on the protesters as “cold-blooded murder”.
(Illustration by Mir Suhail/News18)
DMK MP Kanimozhi told CNN-News 18, "This is murder by the government. What was the need for police and government to open fire. It is cold-blooded murder. It's sad that the state government is justifying the act rather than condemning it."
The party’s working president MK Stalin also came down heavily on the state government led by Palaniswami for failing to contain the anti-Sterlite protests. “Who ordered the police firing on protestors? Why automatic weapons were 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?” tweeted Stalin.
Chief Minister Palaniswami had on Tuesday said that police had opened fire under unavoidable circumstances but a video that surfaced later showed a plainclothes cop on top of a police van taking aim and shooting, putting the “unavoidable” theory in doubt.
The violence was triggered on Tuesday after the protesters were prevented from marching towards the Sterlite plant. They tried to surround the Collector’s office as well as the plant. Police officials resorted to lathicharge and tear gas to disperse the crowd and opened fire later. The protests against the copper smelting plant have been ongoing for 100 days now, but had been largely peaceful before Tuesday.
Actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan went to Tuticorin on Wednesday to meet the injured at the government hospital. There were reports that a case was filed against Haasan for violating Section 144 imposed in the city, but his team said it was untrue.
"We must know who ordered the firing. It is not me but the victims who are demanding this. Merely announcing compensation isn't a solution. This industry must be shut and this is what people demand," he said.
Rajinikanth also strongly condemned the police action. In a video posted on Twitter, he said: "I strongly condemn the government's inaction, failure of intelligence and excessive police force. It is inhuman. My condolences to those who lost their lives."
DMDK founder Vijaykanth wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ensure that Sterlite be shut down permanently.
The National Human Rights Commission has also taken suo motu cognizance of the violence and asked the state government to respond with its report within two weeks.
In Chennai, many groups staged protests demanding the closure of the Sterlite plant and also raised slogans against both the state and the central government. Trade organisations have called for a one day bandh on Thursday to condemn the police firing in Tuticorin.