At least 11 people died and several others were injured after a protest against Sterlite Copper, a unit of Vedanta Limited, turned violent and police resorted to firing on protesters in Tamil Nadu's Tuticorin on Tuesday. The protesters have been demanding the closure of the unit, which operates a 400,000 metric tonnes copper smelter per year, due to pollution concerns in the area and subsequent health hazards that have been linked to the plant. The residents have complained that groundwater has been polluted in the area due to the company's operation.
The cops resorted to firing after over 5,000 protesters went on a rampage across the Tuticorin town as they were denied permission to enter the copper smelter. The protest turned violent after protesters started throwing stones at police, set several vehicles ablaze, and destroyed public as well as government properties, including banks. "Entering the collector's office and (perpetrating) violence is not acceptable... (police) firing was unavoidable," India Today quoted Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar as saying.
Meanwhile, the state government has rushed in additional police forces, including several senior officials, from the neighboring districts to bring the situation under control. State Opposition leaders slammed the ruling government over its failure to control the mob and several deaths. "Since the government did not take any steps in this regard, the people launched todays massive rally...police attacked people indiscriminately and opened fire on them which is condemnable," said DMK Working President MK Stalin, reported India Today.
MDMK founder Vaiko, whose party has participated in several anti-Sterlite protests, called the firing "condemnable". Chief Minister K Palaniswami said he was concerned over the protests and subsequent deaths.
The residents of Tuticorin have been protesting for the closure of the Sterlite Copper plant for over a month now. In April, the company had sought permission to renew operation licence from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, which was rejected by the board. Meanwhile, a peaceful protest was also held against the plant near the old bus stand of Tuticorin. People of Oddapidaram and Srivaikundam also kept their shops closed for the day.