Anti-Sterlite protest: Court halts construction of new copper smelter plant

Filed on May 23, 2018 | Last updated on May 23, 2018 at 10.34 am
Anti-Sterlite protest: Court halts construction of new copper smelter plant

Indian police officials charge towards protestors in the southern Indian city of Tuticorin.

More than 110 vehicles were burnt during the disturbances that lasted nearly four hours.

The Madras High Court on Wednesday stopped the construction of a new copper smelter by Sterlite industries, a day after 11 protesters were killed in police firing.

The Tamil Nadu government has ordered a judicial inquiry into the police firing in the state's Toothukudi on Tuesday which left 11 people, including a girl, dead.

Actor turned politician Kamal Haasan arrives at General Hospital to meet the injured

Protesters rampaged for hours in the southern state of Tamil Nadu calling for the closure of the plant owned by British-based mining giant Vedanta Resources.

"We have confirmation of 12 people being killed in police firing. We fear the toll may rise," the officer told AFP from the state capital Chennai.

An unknown number of protesters were injured in the skirmishes, he said.

Some 20 police were also injured in the clashes in Tuticorin, about 600 kilometres (375 miles) south of Chennai.

The shootings caused immediate outrage. Rahul Gandhi, leader of the opposition Congress party, said it was "state sponsored terrorism".

Protesters stormed the office of the top local administrator and set it ablaze after they were denied permission to hold a rally at the smelting plant.

The police officer said efforts to disperse the 5,000 strong rock-throwing group through a baton charge and tear gas volleys failed. Police then fired live ammunition, he added.

Another officer said more than 110 vehicles were burnt during the disturbances that lasted nearly four hours.

Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami ordered an inquiry into the shootings but defended the police.

"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," he said in a statement.

The families of each victim would be offered one million rupees ($14,700) compensation, he added.

Controversial factory

Residents have been protesting for months against the plant run by a Vedanta subsidiary, Sterlite Copper.

Environmentalists and locals allege the plant is contaminating water resources, a charge denied by the company.

The protests have intensified after Vedanta, owned by an Indian billionaire but with its head office in London, sought to expand the plant.

The plant - which is currently non-operational - has a 400,000-tonne annual capacity.

It was shut briefly after an alleged gas leak in March 2013 that left hundreds with breathing difficulties, nausea and throat infections.

India's federal green court allowed it to be reopened.

The company maintains that it adheres to environmental standards and accused vested interests of spreading "false propaganda" about its operations.

Tamil Nadu is one of India's most industrialised and prosperous states and similar protests over environmental concerns have turned deadly.

Tuticorin witnessed violent demonstrations in 2012 over a nuclear power plant in neighbouring Kudankulam district that left one person dead.

Thousands of protesters blocked roads to prevent supplies reaching the Russian-built plant, concerned about safety standards. One of the plant units is operational.

In 2016, the Indian arm of global consumer goods giant Unilever settled a 15-year-old suit with hundreds of its former employees over mercury contamination at a thermometer factory in Kodaikanal.

The factory was shut in 2001 after it was found to have disposed mercury waste with following proper protocol.

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