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India: FINDINGS OF THE FACT FINDING TEAM ON THE THOOTHUKUDI POLICE FIRING

On 22-05-2018, a demonstration of about 50000 people before the Collectorate in Thoothukudi, Tamilnadu opposing the expansion of Sterlite company was fired upon by the police killing 11 persons and another two were killed in a similar fashion the next day bringing the death toll to 13. In order to check the veracity of various versions on this grave incident of national importance and find out the real facts,a Fact Finding Team(FFT) was constituted jointly by the Indian Federation of Trade Unions(IFTU),All India Kisan Mazdoor Samithi(AIKMS) and the Progressive Organisation of Women(POW),AP.

The FFT, members, J.Chalapathi Rao,Vice-President,AIKMS, P.Prasad, Secretary, IFTU and Lakshmi,General Secretary of POW,AP visited Thoothukudi on 29-05-18 along with two advocates of TN,Prabhaker and Jyothi and PUCL organizer Sampath. The FFT was helped by the NDLF in organizing the programme.The FFT met families of those killed and the injured. It met some members of the Bar Associations of various courts in the state. The following are the findings based on the information procured from the above sources:

1. The Vedanta-owned Sterlite Smelting Company in Thoothukudi was established in 1995 despite severe opposition in the area to it as it would be a source of pollution causing immense damage to environment and to the lives of the people. It is one of the biggest polluting plants in the state of Tamilnadu leading to health hazards like causing cancer and water borne diseases. Since the last twenty two years a movement for the closure of plant has been going on and the governments, both state and central, have not bothered to look into this demand despite a Supreme Court order penalizing the company to pay 100 crores for causing pollution. On the contrary the powers that be, gave permission for expanding the plant. This was the immediate cause that led to the organization of the demonstration on 22-05-18 which was preceeded by a huge rally in the town on 18th March.

2. A broad non-party platform named Struggle Committee against Sterlite, headed by a retired Professor, Fatima has been spearheading the movement. On 22-05-18, a march to the Collectors office was organized and it is estimated that some fifty thousand people participated in it.Just a day before the demonstration, one of the activists of this platform,Thangadurai died of cancer and this could have further angered the people who responded by participating in the programme on 22nd May in large numbers. There were women with children along with old people in the demonstration apart from a cross section of people. The march was stopped by the police with barricades all around the Collectors office and the protesters were not even in the ground near the Collectors building. It was a peaceful assembly of people raising slogans against the Sterlite plant and its expansion. There was no provocation from the protestors either.

3. Armed cops with assault rifles were all around and positions were taken to fire upon an unarmed mass of people.There was no public announcement by the police nor any warning was issued before they began to fire and the firing appears to be aimed to kill and not to disperse or “control” the “mob”. The police fired not below the belts but above their belts resulting in deaths of eleven people that day. The FFT was told that the firing was selective in the sense that targets were chosen from among the protestors. The first victim was Tamilrasan, an activist of the platform and others who were raising slogans. This is further confirmed by a video which is going viral in which a policeman taking position on a van shouting “should kill atleast one”. There is ample evidence to show that the firing was premeditated and intended not merely to cause injury but to shoot to kill. Many questioned the official versions of the incident that painted the demonstration as violent or instigated by anti-social elements. This was an attempt to cover up the heinous act of the police. The police rode rough shod the next day also by killing a dalit youth,Kaliappan in Annanagar.

The FFT strongly feels that the police firing on 22-05-18,followed by firing the next day was intended to terrorise the protesting people into submission. The police did not follow the minimum legal principles and followed brutal methods that are normally associated with it.

4. The nexus with the corporate Sterlite is not difficult to discern as the government plays the role of a protector of investments,capital as seen in many such instances in the country. In the name of “development”private investments are given protection by the state over the people who become victims of this so-called development. In this case in order to facilitate Sterlite Company environmental concerns were damned and the right of the people for a clean environment to live was totally ignored. It will not be out of place to refer to the averments of some of those which point to a close alliance of the Vedanta group with the Modi government.

The FFT demands that punitive action should be initiated against all the officials responsible for the barbaric act of killing 13 people and a Judicial probe headed by a Supreme Court judge should be held to inquire into the entire incident. It demands the immediate closure of the Sterlite Smelting plant initiate action against the management for jeopardizing the lives of the local communities and environmental damage.

J.Chalapati Rao     P.Prasad     M.Lakshmi
02-06-2018