- Thousands demanding closure of a copper smelting plant go on rampage
- Chief Minister orders judicial inquiry into violence and police firing
- People have been protesting against Sterlite plant for more than 3 months
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Mr Palaniswami confirmed nine deaths that his government had practically refused to confirm all day saying it needed to check the facts. In his condolence message, Governor Banwarilal Purohit later said there had been 11 deaths. "To bring the violence under control, under unavoidable circumstances, police had to take action. To maintain law and order additional police personnel have been sent to Tuticorin," a government statement said.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi called the police action "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," he tweeted.
Reports from Tuticorin, 600 km from state capital Chennai, said nearly 5000 protesters gathered near a local church and insisted on taking out a rally to the district collector's office after they were denied permission to march to the copper smelter plant.
"The police had to take action under unavoidable circumstances to protect public life and property as the protesters resorted to repeated violence... police had to control the violence," Mr Palaniswami's statement said.
DMK blamed the state government for the violence, saying that people had been protesting peacefully for so long but the administration did not attempt to address the concerns of the people. The plant should be shut down, MK Stalin of the DMK said, declaring he would head to Tuticorin to be with people.
Superstar Rajinikanth and actor-politician Kamal Haasan have lent their support to the protest in the past, echoed the sentiment, blaming the government for ignoring "peaceful protests". "Citizens are not criminals... They are the ones who lose their lives," Kamal Haasan said. Rajinikanth also held the government responsible for the loss of lives. "I am sad over loss of lives in firing caused due to the government's indifference," Rajinikanth tweeted.
In a late night statement, Sterlite Copper said it has appealed to the government and authorities to ensure safety of employees and facilities. "It's with great sorrow and regret that we witnessed today's incidents around the protest today at Tuticorin... Sterlite Copper plant is non-operational," it said.
In March 2013, hundreds of people suffered breathing difficulty, nausea and throat infection following an alleged gas leak from the plant. Though the plant was ordered to shut down following allegations of violating pollution control norms, the National Green Tribunal had ultimately allowed it to be reopened.
The same year in another case spearheaded by MDMK chief Vaiko, the Supreme Court had slapped a 100 crore fine on the plant for polluting over the years. However, at that time Sterlite, run by the Vedanta group, had claimed it adheres to pollution control norms.
Sterlite began operations in 1996. It now employs about 1,000 people full time and about 2,000 on contract. It also provides indirect employment opportunity for around 25,000 people. The plant has been shut for almost two months, because of compliance issues with pollution authorities. and the company had said halting would have serious implications on the economy.