In view of the violent situation over Vedanta's Sterlite plant in Tamil Nadu's Tuticorin that has claimed several lives, the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court on Wednesday stayed the ongoing construction of a new copper smelter by the company.
The interim order by the high court came after Tuesday's violence in which at least 11 people, including a girl, were killed and several others injured after police opened fire at protesters demanding the closure of Vedanta's Sterlite Copper unit in the coastal city.
The situation escalated after the police stopped thousands of locals, who had gathered outside the district collector’s office in Tuticorin to take out a protest march against the company.
Angered over not being allowed to take out a rally, the agitators started hurling stones at the security forces and overturned police vehicles. To disperse the protesters, the police opened fire, which led to the killings of 11 people.
The situation worsened after the police action, prompting authorities to impose Section 144 of CrPC, which prohibits assembly of more than four people in an area.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E Palaniswami appealed to the people to maintain peace and ordered a probe into the violence and police firing. Palaniswami, however, defended the police action and said that the circumstances forced police to take the extreme step.
"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," the Tamil Nadu CM said.
The residents of Tuticorin were demanding the closure of the Sterlite Copper unit over the concerns of pollution. The locals alleged that the plant was polluting groundwater and causing serious health issues.
Sterlite Copper is a unit of Vedanta Limited which operates a 400,000-tonne per annum capacity plant in Tuticorin. The protests escalated after the company announced the expansion of the unit.
DMK compares Tuticorin killings with Punjab's Jallianwalla Bagh
The Opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) came out strongly against the killings of protesters in police firing and compared the incident with Punjab's Jallianwalla Bagh massacre by the British, which took place nearly a hundred years ago.
"A recent survey shows that maximum protests happen in Tamil Nadu. That's because of the inefficiency of the government. This is a Jallianwallah Bagh type of massacre. The government should pack up and go," NDTV quoted DMK leader Sarvanan as saying.
The Tamil Nadu government has come under severe attack by the Opposition over the incident. Congress president Rahul Gandhi termed the killings a "brutal example of state-sponsored terrorism".
"The gunning down by the police of nine people in the Sterlite protest in Tamil Nadu is a brutal example of state-sponsored terrorism. These citizens were murdered for protesting against injustice. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of these martyrs and the injured," Gandhi tweeted.
Who ordered firing, asks Kamal Haasan
Actor-turned-politician and Makkal Needhi Maiam chief Kamal Haasan on Wednesday visited General Hospital in Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) to meet the protesters injured in the police firing.
After meeting the injured in the hospital, Haasan demanded the closure of the unit and asked who ordered the police to open fire at the protesters.
"We must know who ordered this firing. It is not me but the victims who are demanding this. Merely announcing compensation isn't a solution. This industry must be shut and this is what people are demanding," the Makkal Needhi Maiam chief said.