Deadly protests in India spark suspension of copper smelting plant's expansion

Pauline Gross
May 26, 2018

Thousands of local residents have been protesting for more than three months against the Sterlite copper smelting plant and its reported expansion.

Media reports from the town of Tuticorin say that pushing and shoving between protesters and police turned more violent on Tuesday, with demonstrators pelting police with stones, overturning cars and setting fires.

The Tamil Nadu government said that the police had to take action "under unavoidable circumstances" to bring the violence under control.

"We would like to restart the plant as soon as possible, in a peaceful manner", P. Ramnath, chief executive of Vedanta Ltd's copper business, told Reuters.

What's different now is the scale of the agitation-over 100,000 people have reportedly participated in the protests-since various stakeholders, including the central and state governments, haven't responded to residents' demands.

He said some anti-social elements had infiltrated the agitators on May 22 and attacked the police, torched the police vehicles. "Sterlite Copper plant is non-operational as we await approval for the consent to operate". A total of 74 two-wheelers and 24 cars were damaged after mobs, protesting the police firings, went on the rampage on the roads, causing losses worth Rs 1.27 crore. "Why were automatic weapons used to disperse the crowd and under what law is this permitted?"

Protests Against a Copper Plant in Southern India Turn Deadly as 12 People Are Killed by Police

"It is with great sorrow and regret that we witnessed yesterday's (Tuesday) incidents around the protest at Tuticorin".

Demanding the company's closure, the protesters said, "The company was fined by the Supreme Court for releasing poisonous gases".

The district police on Thursday filed cases against a host of political leaders, including MK Stalin, MDMK chief Vaiko, Tamil Maanila Congress president G K Vasan and actor Kamal Haasan, for defying prohibitory orders while visiting the port city on Wednesday. Palaniswami also assured government jobs for one family member of each of those who lost their lives in accordance with their qualifications.

Norway's Council on Ethics, which makes recommendations to the pension fund, said it did a "particularly thorough assessment here" of Vedanta Resources in 2016 and found grounds to stay away from it. Edinburgh-based investment fund Martin Currie has also sold off its Vedanta shares on ethical grounds. "The company is working with the relevant authorities to ensure the safety of our employees, facilities and the surrounding community", she said.

Meanwhile, a plea was moved in the Delhi High Court on Thursday seeking its direction to the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC) to visit the location and conduct a separate inquiry into the violence there.

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Other reports by GizPress

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