A court today asked the Tamil Nadu police to treat 173 FIRs or complaints filed after the death of 13 people in police firing on anti-Sterlite protesters in Tuticorin in May as a single complaint.
On May 22, the police opened fire on protesters who were demanding the shutdown of the Sterlite Copper plant over deadly pollution.
After the deaths, the police had filed many FIRs including nearly 5,000 unnamed people. Days later, the Tamil Nadu government shut down the plant.
"It's an abuse of the law. Even all the people in Tuticorin can be implicated," the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court said, ordering the police to treat all as one FIR. An advocate who filed the petition in the court said the 173 complaints were an attempt by the police to harass protesters, implicating them in multiple cases.
Protesters and activists allege that the police had engaged snipers to eliminate local leaders and had shot dead innocent people, including a young girl who was part of the protests. They also claimed that there was an escalation after stone-throwing by the police.
The police blamed the violence on "anti-social elements" who they say had infiltrated into the protests. They insisted that they were compelled to fire to bring the situation under control.
The police have been accused of excesses while taking action against the protesters, conducting searches and spot arrests. Nearly 275 people were arrested for rioting and damaging public property.
The state government transferred the investigation to the Crime Branch CID or Crime Investigation Department.
In another embarrassment, Tuticorin district collector appeared in the same court yesterday where he was asked by the court to cancel his order detaining an anti-Sterlite protester - a lawyer - under the National Security Act (NSA). The court said, "The Collector should not accept whatever the police say and sign (on detention orders). Your signature could affect the freedom of an individual".
Hari Raghavan is a member a Left-wing group of Left-wing and faces 92 cases for allegedly instigating the agitation demanding closure of the Sterlite plant in Tuticorin.