Sunday, 27 May 2018

After Brutal Police Repression, Tuticorin is turned into a Police Camp!

-Louis Thomas/ 26.5.2018 

13 were dead and more than hundred were left wounded after police opened fire upon the peaceful protestors of Tuticorin demanding closure of polluting Sterlite Copper melting facility at Tuticorin.

Sterlite facility is located in Tuticorin (Thoothukudi), southern tip of state of Tamil Nadu in India. Sterlite is subsidiary of Vedanta Pvt Ltd, a UK based company, owned by Anil Agarwal, an NRI, residing in London.

Vedanta is having mining operations and industrial plants in various countries. In india alone, apart from Tamilnadu it has plants in states of Rajasthan, Goa and Orissa. Orissa government had allotted vast regions in Niyamagiri hills to Vedanta for bauxite mining, but the project could not take off for severe resistance from tribal people. It also had to shut its plants in Goa and Rajasthan for severe resistance by the masses. Supreme Court and various High Courts have passed orders to shut down its plants citing environmental violations.

Operating in many states in India under different names, Vedanta has enriched its coffers through profiteering by gross violations of all environmental laws alongside human rights.

Sterlite Copper Plant in Tuticorin is a copper melting facility, that was allotted land for construction of its plant initially in 1993, at coastal district of Ratnagiri, Maharashtra. Later it had to shut down for mass resistance in the region for environmental hazards it posed. It was then shifted to Tuticorin, a port town, where people depend broadly on agriculture, fishing and trading for their survival. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) had issued no-objection certificate to the project with the pre-condition that plant should be constructed outside the 25 Km of Gulf of Mannar. The NOC was subject to the quaterly Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). But the project has continued since 1996, flouting all rules, norms and conditions, with no proper arrangement of safe disposal of hazardous industrial affluent. There have been frequent instances of gas leaks. The air and water surrounding the plant stand totally polluted thus. The facility is most polluting among all. Skin diseases, headache, cancer and other related health issues have become routine in the region.

The 1998 Impact study report of National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, NEERI, indicted Sterlite for not only failing to develop a green belt, but also for that it was engaged in producing products it was not authorized to, contaminated the ground water with arsenic, lead selenium, aluminum and copper, tampered with the online monitors and caused numerous gas leaks. This impact study, submitted to Madras High Court, led to shut down of the plant. Later, the same NEERI generated a favourable report.

In 2010 the Madras High Court had again ordered the shutdown of the plant for large scale environment violations by Sterlite. But the order was stayed by the Supreme Court in 2013 and instead a meager fine of Rs 100 crores was imposed.

The Plant is now producing 1,200 tonnes of copper per day and 400,000 tonnes per year.

Recently, Sterlite has sought the expansion of the plant alongside renewal of its licence, virtually doubling the output, adding another 4 lakh tones per year, which remains pending with the TNPCB.

It was after this application that the people were up in arms since February this year. The concerns for environmental degradation, pollution of air and water, health hazards etc. had mobilized the people to act.

Residents of Kumaratipuram village, situated adjacent to the plant, who are worst affected by the polluting facility, as their water bodies are badly contaminated by poisonous waste from the plant, had started the protest seeking closure of the Plant.

On March 24, 2018 the protest culminated in a huge gathering of more than 50,000 participants.

On May 22, 2018, the 100th day of this protest, the protestors sought permission to protest near Sterlite plant, but the same was refused. The permission was given instead at SAV ground near Old bus stand of Tuticorin. Protesting against this, the protestors decided to picket the Sterlite plant and Collector’s Office, demanding closure of Sterlite plant.

On May 22, around 10 am nearly 10,000 protestors gathered in front of the Old Lady Mother Church and proceeded towards the District Collector’s office. The number of protestors increased to nearly 20,000 and they out-numbered the police as they marched past the police barricades.
The protestors were unarmed and peaceful. The police started throwing tear gas shells first and in no time opened direct fire killing 11 on the spot.

Snipers, the sharpshooters were used to kill the people while taking specific targets. The videos shot on the spot and released later by people, expose the brutality of the police and the pre-plan to teach the lesson to protestors. One of such videos shows a police officer directing the sniper, shouting “Kill at least one of them”.

The shootings were in gross violation of the Tamil Nadu Police Standing Orders (TNPSO) that provide that firing of gunshots upon the crowds cannot be ordered without first using tear gas shells and then water cannon to disperse the crowd. Failing this, only after a public announcement warning for dispersal gunshots could be ordered. The gunshots, in any case, can be fired only below the knees.

All these rules were not followed and openly flouted to do maximum harm to the peaceful protestors.

Even in terrorist affected areas like Kashmir, they used rubber pellets. But in Tuticorin, at the very first instance, they used ‘snipers’, used for long distant targeted shooting.

Nearly ten were killed on the spot, the first day. Another teenager Kalliappan, was killed during protests at the hospital. Tamilarasan and Jeyaraman, killed during the protests were young activists, who had been leading the anti Sterlite protests. A teenage girl Venista was killed by firing at point blank inside her mouth. Another woman was also shot by the sniper.

Nearly 65 of the protestors got seriously injured due to the indiscriminate firing by police. Eyewitness accounts narrate how even before the protest march could reach the office of the District Collector, the vehicles located there were burnt by the police to give an apology to itself for savagery of firing and killing the unarmed peaceful protestors. Doubtlessly, it was a pre-planned act by the police to teach a lesson to the protestors to protest against almighty corporate Vedanta.

Chief Minister of Tamilnadu and AIADMK leader Palanisamy, supported the police firing and killing of the protestors claiming that the police had no option.

Political parties in opposition have only formally condemned the misdeeds of Sterlite and the brutality of the Police. However none of them has shown any seriousness against the police savagery and the wrongdoing of Sterlite.

The police continues to frequent the homes of suspected protestors and participant supporters, to drag them out beat them up publicly and arrest them.

Public emergency has been ordered by the authorities in three districts- Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari and Tuticorin. There is complete media blackout with no internet facilities in these districts.

The bandh of May 25, called by the opposition parties, to save their face, to protest against police atrocities, has met with total success all over the state.

All the major political parties from congress to BJP are on the payrolls of Vedanta. Reports of Scroll and Quint suggest that these parties received donationas in crores of rupees from Vedanta.

They have been indicted by the Delhi Court in 2015 for receiving unlawful foreign money contributions from Vedanta, constituting violation of the provisions of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).The Delhi High Court has has also directed the Election Commission to initiate proceedings against these parties under the provisions of Representation of Peoples’ Act. These parties in collusion with each other have however amended the FCRA recently to exempt companies like Sterlite from the purview of the FCRA Act, on the ground that they are mere subsidiaries. Now any foreign company can make donations to political parties so long it has subsidiaries in India. On this premise, foreign donation has been made legal in the 2018 budget. Congress and BJP worked in tandem to get this amendment passed that enables them to escape the rigors of the 2015 judgement of the Delhi High Court.

Tamilnadu has recorded highest number of protests in India nearing 20,000 in 2017. Southern Tamilnadu, where the city of Tuticorin is situated, has the great heritage of revolutionary mass struggles, before and after 1947. It is traditional habitat of the working class communities.

While protests are continuing all over the country seeking closure of the Sterlite Company, solidarity protests have also taken place outside the oversees offices of Vedanta.

Environment is the worst victim under the axe of capitalism. The blind race for profits is posing a live threat to the very survival of human race. Especially in the backward capitalist countries that are vying against each other to catch up with the advanced countries, environment is the last priority. While the advanced capitalist countries are raising their environmental standards to all time high, the backward countries are accommodating the most polluting industries by lowering the guards against pollution.

The sole concern of backward countries is to seek developmental routes through attracting foreign capital by offering cheap labour and plenty of natural resources without hassles. Through brutal repression upon their masses, the capitalist rulers demonstrate to the foreign and domestic investors their capabilities to suppress all dissent against profit extraction and exploitation.

The struggle in defence of the environment and natural resources is thus flip side of the struggle against exploitation of labour and is thus integral to the overall struggle against capitalism. Struggle in defence of environment, is in essence, the struggle against capitalism.

In Tuticorin’s struggle against Vedanta and the state of Indian Bourgoeisie, the international working class finds the expression of its class struggle against world capitalism as a whole!

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