Tamil Nadu violence: CPI demands resignation of CM K Palaniswami

Protests Against a Copper Plant in Southern India Turn Deadly as 12 People Are Killed by Police

Tuticorin: A day after more eleven people lost their lives in police firing on anti-Sterlite plant agitators, Vedanta Ltd on Wednesday urged the government to ensure safety and security of employees at its copper smelter facility in Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu.

Since February, residents of the port city of Tuticorin have protested against the expansion of a copper smelting plant and demanded its closure because of environmental concerns. Police said they were compelled to respond with live ammunition after demonstrators pelted police with stones, attacked a government building, and set vehicles on fire.

The directive issued by the Chief Secretary states that it has been brought to the notice the government that some people died in police action during the protest against Sterlite factory at Thoothukudi on May 22, which saw 20,000 people assemble and involve in violence and that this mass gathering of people was achieved mainly through the information passed via social media.

Amidst the uproar over the police opening fire on unarmed protesters at Sterlite's (now Vedanta) Copper Smelter plant in Thoothukudi, a PIL has been filed before the Supreme Court calling for action to be taken against those responsible.

"We're not in that stage to look at setting up a plant elsewhere", P. Ramnath, chief executive of Vedanta's India copper business, said in an interview. Protests have continued, with one person reportedly killed by a rubber bullet and dozens injured on May 23.

Residents and environmentalists have been protesting for the past three months against plans to double the capacity of the copper plant that they say is contaminating the air and fisheries around the site.

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The court also directed the Centre to hold a public hearing within four months before granting environment clearance to the plant. This, a fallout of the violent protests. Rahul Gandhi, leader of the opposition Indian National Congress party, called the incident "state sponsored terrorism".

Local television showed police trying to disperse the crowd with tear gas and a policeman firing shots from the top of a van. "These citizens were murdered for protesting against injustice", he said.

P. Mahendran, superintendent of Tuticorin district police, said 18 officers were also wounded in the clashes. The existing plant is now not operational, Sterlite has said.

Several investment bankers said that Vedanta's management did have a strong reputation for turning around businesses and keeping costs under control.

The expansion of the plant, activists argue, will only add to the environmental damage and health risks.

A court on Wednesday put a temporary halt to Vedanta's much-delayed plan to almost double capacity at the Thoothukudi plant, which would make it one of the biggest copper smelters in the world.

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