Ex-CM Palaniswami, district collector criticised; strict action recommended against those responsible
Over four years ago, Tamil Nadu Police had opened fire on demonstrators during protests at Vedanta’s Sterlite copper plant in Thoothukudi, resulting in the deaths of 13 people. Justice Aruna Jagadeesan commission, which inquired into the police firing, has held police and revenue officials solely responsible for the deaths.
The commission has also strongly criticised the district collector and the-then chief minister and recommended strict action against the erring police officers. The report was also tabled in the state’s Legislative Assembly earlier this month.
The-then Tamil Nadu government, along with the police, had claimed that the firing was done to control the violence started by the protesters. However, the inquiry panel has called it completely baseless and solely blamed police and revenue officials.
After the report was laid on the table of the Legislative Assembly, Chief Minister M K Stalin called the incident a black spot in the state’s history. The compensation for the families of the deceased will be increased and the families will be taken care of, the CM announced.
Read more: Anti-Sterlite stir: Parts of Tuticorin return to normal, but activists say it’s far from over
The Commission of Inquiry’s (CoI) final report has categorically termed the-then Tamil Nadu government’s actions to deal with the protests as wrong and recommended criminal and departmental action against all those responsible for the firing.
The Sterlite copper plant, a unit of Vedanta Limited, used to be India’s largest copper smelter plant until its closure in 2018. The plant opened in 1997 and for several years, environmentalists and political parties protested against it over pollution.
The air quality and water in the area deteriorated rapidly due to the plant’s emissions, demonstrators said, and fishermen complained about their catch being affected. The protests intensified in early 2018 and continued in the form of dharnas, hunger strikes, public meetings, etc.
On the day of the incident ie May 22, 2018, thousands of protesters marched towards the district collector’s office, demanding immediate closure of the plant. At that time, the state government claimed that the situation spiralled out of control and the protesters became violent.
It claimed that the police were compelled to open fire, which killed 12 people, including two women. Another protester died the next day.
The-then All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government in Tamil Nadu constituted the Justice Aruna Jagadeesan Commission of Inquiry the very next day.
The commission, in its report, has described the police firing on the protesters as unprovoked and also Thoothukudi District Collector N Venkatesh was sharply criticised for failing to hold talks with the protesters.
The crowd control measures adopted by the police were inefficient and could not prevent protesters from reaching the collectorate on the day of the incident, the CoI final report said. The firing also began without warning, it added.
Apart from the 13 deaths, at least 33 more people were injured by bullets. The commission also observed the bullets on the body of each individual and found that in almost all the deaths due to firing, the victims were shot in the face. This meant the police did not follow the proper firing protocol below the waist.
Read more: Environment ministry, Tamil Nadu Pollution Board must own up to Tuticorin killings
The victims did not pose any threat to the police, the report found, as the protestors were retreating from the spot.
The panel also criticised the-then Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami for his remarks that he came to know about the incident through television reports. The report revealed that the CM was constantly updated about the issue by the-then Chief Secretary Girija Vaidyanatha, Director General of Police TK Rajendran and intelligence chief KN Satyamurthy.
The report has found 17 police officers responsible for the incident and recommended departmental action against District Collector Venkatesh. The commission has also recommended increasing the financial compensation to the families of the deceased to Rs 50 lakh and the injured to Rs 10 lakh.
CM Stalin has announced increasing compensation to the next of kin by Rs 5 lakh and assured strict action against those responsible. Departmental action has been initiated against the collector and senior police officers.
Apart from this, one officer of the rank of deputy superintendent of police and three constables have already been suspended.
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