National Alliance of People’s Movements condemns killing of Anti-Sterlite protestors

NAPM demands Court – monitored Judicial Inquiry by Retired Apex Court Judge & action against senior political leaders, officials responsible for the massacre. Demands that Government of Tamil Nadu must ensure permanent shut down of old and proposed units of Sterlite.

National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) strongly condemns the brutal gunning down of over 11 citizens including a 17 year old girl and violence on more than 60 persons by the Tamil Nadu Police, during the mass and largely peaceful protests against the Sterilite Copper Plant of Vedanta Pvt. Ltd. in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu. It is know that the people of Thoothukudi have been protesting against the pollution of ground water and air by the copper smelter for years. This current phase of protest started in early march when the expansion of Sterlite plant to double capacity was announced.  On the 100th day of protest i.e. 22nd May, against the Sterlite copper unit Ltd, thousands of people of Thoothukudi took out a pre-announced march towards the Collectorate. The march was to reiterate their demand to shut down the existing copper smelter, causing severe pollution and health hazards. Over 10,000 people – men, women and children marched to meet the collector.

The Tamil Nadu police lathi charged, shot with tear gas and smoke bombs at the protesters without provocation. When the people ran towards the collectorate, during which time certain government vehicles were reportedly torched, the police opened fire killing over 10 people and injuring several others. Over 3,000 police personal including commandos with self-loaded rifles were deployed to bring ‘situation under control’. Reports from the ground account for police chasing and unprovoked shooting at men and women and into fishing hamlets. There are videos of police personal shooting from a safe distance atop vehicles and armed with lathis entering hospital and beating up the injured! This is nothing but a barbaric assault on the democratic rights of the people.

Protests against Sterlite have been going on for over two decades. On March 24th 2018 a similar protest was called, participated by tens of thousands of people with no untoward incident. This forced the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and the Rural Development Officer (RDO), to take groundwater samples from 7 locations within Sterlite factory premises and 8 from villages around the factory. The results revealed widespread and high levels of contamination in all 15 groundwater sources. Levels of the neurotoxin heavy metal lead, which is particularly toxic to children, were found to be between 4 and 55 times higher than levels considered safe for drinking water. The company has been shut down many a times through court orders for violation of environmental safeguards, since 1998. At least 15 workers have died and many have been injured due to hazardous working conditions.

The responsibility of yesterday’s shooting lies with not just the police and the district administration, but the Government of Tamil Nadu, Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board. For, yesterday was a bloody culmination of over two decades of blatant disregard for the lives and well-being of the people and protecting corporate interest. 

One needs to remember that in 1992, Sterlite was allotted land in Maharashtra, but was shifted to Tamil Nadu due to massive protest by the people of Ratnagiri. The Genesis and the growth of Strelite in Tamil Nadu is an example of how the deep crony capitalism is entrenched in our system. The project received environmental clearance in January 1995, even before the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA). There have been periodical complains made to TNPCB of health issues caused gas leak, draining toxic waste along with rainwater, polluting the groundwater, but each time Sterlite got a clean chit. In 2013, the Supreme Court on hearing the people of Thoothukudi, gave a severe indictment to the company, but refused to shut it down.

We have seen such tactics before and will not be fooled. We saw similar brute force and false charges used to curb the Koodankulam anti-nuclear protests.  Similarly the same brutality was shown in curbing the Jallikattu movement. It is the sad state of affairs that the entire state machinery is deployed to defend the profit of a private corporate that has a chequered history in the country, be in Orissa, Chhattisgarh or elsewhere. But just like many other states of the country, Tamil Nadu too has been simmering with protests against corporate loot and state terror, in order to protect corporate interests.

NAPM stands in full solidarity with the fighting masses of Thoothukudi and extends our deepest condolences to the families who have lost their dear ones, all activists and leaders of the movement, in their own right. We demand the immediate shutting of the Sterilite copper smelter and its expansion. Development that does not account for the wellbeing of the people is nothing but destruction and has to be fought tooth and nail.

We call upon the Govt. of TN to honour the interim order of the Madres High Court issued today to stall all works of the Plant and conduct a public hearing.  The authorities must ensure no further intimidation, harassment and arrests of the already battered people. GoTN must ensure immediate disbursement of at least Rs. 1 crore compensation to the families of each of the deceased persons, Rs. 50 lakhs to each of the severely injured persons and a permanent government job to at least one member in the family of each of the deceased.

Given the scale and seriousness of the crime involved, a time bound, Court-monitored Judicial Inquiry by a Retired Supreme Court Judge to investigate the entire incident and fix liability must be initiated at the earliest. FIR under Section 302 IPC must be registered against the senior officials as well as political leaders, without whose facilitation and orders, the planning and executed these shootings and killings would not have happened.

The Government of Tamil Nadu has lost its ethical right to govern the state and at the bare minimum must ensure the stepping down of senior ministers who could have acted prudently and thwarted this tragedy, but did not. 

Endorsed By:

Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM)

Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Shankar Singh, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, NAPM

Prafulla Samantara, Lok Shakti Abhiyan; Lingraj Azad, Samajwadi Jan Parishad & Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, NAPM Odisha 

Dr.Sunilam, Adv. Aradhna Bhargava, Kisan Sangharsh Samiti

Rajkumar Sinha, Bargi Baandh Visthapit evam Prabhavit Sangh, NAPM, Madhya Pradesh

P. Chennaiah, Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union-APVVU, 

Ramakrishnam Raju, United Forum for RTI and NAPM

Meera Sanghamitra, Rajesh Serupally, NAPM Telangana – Andhra Pradesh

Dr Binayak Sen, Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) 

GautamBandopadhyay, Na di Ghati Morcha

KaladasDahariya, RELAA,  NAPM Chhattisgarh

Kavita Srivastava, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL)

Kailash MeenaNAPM Rajasthan 

Sandeep Pandey, Socialist Party

Richa Singh, Sangatin

ArundhatiDhuru , Manesh Gupta, NAPM, Uttar Pradesh 

Gabriele Dietrich, Penn Urimay Iyakkam, Madurai

Geetha Ramakrishnan, Unorganised Sector Workers Federation

Arul Doss, NAPM Tamilnadu 

Sister Celia, Domestic Workers Union

Maj Gen (Retd) S.G.Vombatkere, NAPM, Karnataka 

Vilayodi Venugopal, CR Neelakandan, Prof. Kusumam Joseph, NAPM, Kerala

AnandMazgaonkar, Swati Desai, Krishnakant, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, NAPM Gujarat 

VimalBhai, Matu Jan sangathan; 

Jabar SinghNAPM, Uttarakhand 

Dayamani Barla, Aadivasi-Moolnivasi Astitva Raksha Samiti 

Basant Kumar Hetamsaria and Ashok Verma, NAPM Jharkhand

Samar Bagchi, Amitava MitraNAPM West Bengal

Suniti SR, Suhas Kolhekar, Prasad Bagwe, & Bilal Khan, Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, Mumbai NAPM Maharashtra 

Anjali Bharadwaj, National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), NAPM

Faisal Khan, KhudaiKhidmatgar; 

J S Walia, NAPM Haryana

Guruwant SinghNAPM Punjab

Kamayani Swami, AshishRanjan, Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan

MahendraYadav, Kosi Navnirman Manch

Sister Dorothy, Ujjawal Chaubey, NAPM Bihar

Bhupender Singh Rawat, Jan SangharshVahini

Sunita Rani, Domestic Workers Union

Rajendra Ravi, Nanhu Prasad, Madhuresh Kumar, Amit Kumar, Himshi Singh, Uma, NAPM, Delhi

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