The protests in south India took a deadly turn after at least 10 people were shot dead by the police in order to disperse the crowd.
Oppositions have accused the police committed a mass murder by opening fire on civilians protesting the expansion of a copper smelting facility in the port city of Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu. Residents say the facility is polluting the environment.
In addition to the 10 killed, another Indian man identified as Kaliappan was killed in the protest taking the death toll to 11 with almost 80 others injured.
The Madras high court ordered to stop the expansion of the copper smelter amid protests. He also ruled the need for public hearings before environmental approval is granted to the 400,000-tonne facility.
The copper smelter is operated by an Indian subsidiary of London-based Vedanta Resources. The faculty has been shut down several times over environmental complaints. In 2013, the company was reportedly fined $13 million for “breaching environmental norms and operating without the consent of the state pollution board,” according to The Guardian.
Environmental activists also alleged in the same year a gas leak from the same facility left people with breathing difficulties.
The protests have been persistent since three months, ever since it was announced the copper plant will be doubling its capacity.
However, the Indian subsidiary that operates the smelting facility Sterlite Copper, said the violent protests are due to “nefarious elements” and that all environmental laws have been abided by the facility.
However, ire over police brutality grew after a video showed a police officer, firing his rifle onto the protestors. A voice in the video can be heard saying, “At least one should die.”
“Mass murder of innocent people,” M.K. Stalin, leader of the main Tamil Nadu opposition party, the DMK, tweeted on Wednesday. “Who ordered the police firing on protesters? Why were automatic weapons used to disperse the crowd and under what law is this permitted?”
Who ordered the police firing on protestors? Why were automatic weapons used to disperse the crowd and under what law is this permitted? Why were rubber/ plastic bullets or other means NOT used to avoid fatal injuries? Why was no warning given before firing? #SterliteProtest— M.K.Stalin (@mkstalin) May 23, 2018
The national leader of the opposition Congress party Rahul Gandhi called the deaths “a brutal example of state-sponsored terrorism.”
“These citizens were murdered for protesting against injustice,” he said.
Local police said live ammunition was used on protestors after other efforts, such as teargas, had failed to disperse the crowd.
Protesters had set fire to vehicles and the local administrator’s office after they were not given permission to hold a rally at the plant.
Tamil Nadu chief minister, Edappadi K Palaniswami went to his force’s defense over the brutal killings of civilians.
“The police had to take action under unavoidable circumstances to protect public life and property as the protesters resorted to repeated violence,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Vedanta Resources offered her “regret” over the killings.
“The company is working with the relevant authorities to ensure the safety of our employees, facilities and the surrounding community,” she said.
While the copper plant awaits its renewal license, the court has ordered the closure of the plant and cut its electrical supply.
Thumbnail / Banner : REUTERS/P.Ravikumar