A team of retired bureaucrats, former judges and representatives of NGOs which held a People’s Inquest into the recent police firing in Thoothukudi has put the entire blame on the district and State administration. The riots that took placed in the port city following the protest march by local residents on May 22 demanding the immediate closure of Sterlite Copper, a Vedanta Group company, claimed the lives of 15 persons, according to the report released by the PI.
The team has demanded the immediate ban of the Sterlite Copper Plant and the dismantling of the plant. “The plant area should be cleared,” the PI report has demanded. The report describes that the police firing was thoroughly unjustified and was in violation of all the established rules.
The PI report, prepared based on testimonies gathered from the general public, blames the district collector for the shabby way in which the prohibitory order (Section 144) was declared in the city. The team that included the likes of M G Devasahayam, Christudas Gandhi (former IAS officials), Jacob Punnose (former IPS officer), R B Sreekumar (former IPS officer who was in the forefront of the anti-Narendra Modi agitation), Kalpana Kannabiran (NGO), Hariparanthaman(former judge, Madras High Court), Tom Thomas, T Peter and J Joseph (Fishermen Forums) among others spoke to the family members of the victims and the injured demonstrators before preparing the comprehensive report.
The essence of the lengthy report is that most of the people who had assembled for the demonstration were ignorant of the Section 144 which had been declared by the district collector the previous night. The team found gaping holes in the claim of the police that they resorted to firing to save the district collectorate which was allegedly set ablaze by the demonstrators. “The PI team observes that if the district administration was serious about imposing Section 144it would have prevented even small group formations in the district. It is appalling that during 100 days of peaceful and non-violent protests, none of the Ministers from Tamil Nadu state government or the union government ever reached out to the anti-Sterlite movement,” the report observes.
The team of investigators allege that while the demonstration was peaceful, policemen who posed as protestors started pelting stones . “When they were identified by some of the protestors, the policemen swiftly ran away. The vehicles parked in the collectorate were already on fire by the time the demonstrators reached the venue,” said the report.
The PI report also says that people have cited cases of cancer, lung and breathing related hazards which they attribute to Sterlite. “There have been numerous complaints against the company of harming the environment and breaking the government environmental regulations. There are numerous reports which which suggests that the company with help of its money power and political clout have gotten away with breaking laws,” said the PI report.
While the PI report has lambasted the company for polluting the environment, the Sterlite management, hitherto remained incommunicado to queries posed by the media, have suddenly started giving interviews to local media as part of damage control exercise.