In the face of severe criticism and demands for the stepping down of the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami-led government, the state has made a controversial appointment to probe the killing of at least 11 civilians by the police in Thoothukudi. Retired High Court judge Aruna Jagadeesan has been appointed as the one-woman inquiry committee to probe the police firing and killing of civilians who were protesting against Sterlite’s copper smelter in Thoothukudi. The timeline for investigating this case has not been fixed.
The order came a day after 11 civilians including anti-Sterlite protesters were gunned down by the Tamil Nadu police, on the 100th day of the anti-Sterlite agitation in Thoothukudi. In a video that has surfaced, police can be seen taking aim with assault rifles, and the audio in the background suggests that they were aiming to kill the unarmed protesters.
Aruna Jagadeesan is a controversial judge, who was part of the bench that gave a clean chit to the police in February 2015, for alleged fake encounters in Velachery that killed five men suspected of bank robbery. A plea for a CBI probe into the matter was also dismissed by the bench.
The Union Home Ministry has ordered the TN government to file a report on what transpired between the protesters and the police personnel leading to shoot-outs on May 22 in Thoothukudi.
Over one lakh protesters had gathered in massive protests demanding the closure of Vedanta’s Sterlite copper smelters. On the 100th day of their protests, protesters who attempted to enter the Collector’s office were fired at by the police. At least 11 people including a minor girl were shot dead by the police, leading to massive public anger.
Though the Tamil Nadu government maintains that the police action was “unavoidable”, visuals being telecast by Tamil TV channels Puthiya Thalaimurai and News 18 Tamil Nadu show policemen in plain clothes taking aim from top of a police van and firing at protesters.
Those gathered at Thoothukudi Government Hospital are angry at the Government’s lack of concern for the people’s welfare. “The government is supposed to protect us! Why are they supporting a private company? What does this mean?” asked one of them.
After a long drawn battle, Madurai bench of the Madras High Court on Wednesday passed an interim order staying the expansion of the copper smelter. The High Court also directed the Centre to hold a public hearing within four months before granting environment clearance to Sterlite copper smelter plant.