Weeks after 13 civilians were killed in the anti-Sterlite protests in Thoothukudi, TNM has accessed a copy of the First Information Report (FIR) which says an inspector of police gave the shooting orders in FCI roundana area on May 22.
The FIR, filed by Ganesh Kumar, Inspector of Police, Thoothukudi South police station states that Inspector Meenatchi Nathan of Ottapidaram police station, Thoothukudi, was posted in FCI roundana on May 22. As the protestors reached FCI godown area, Nathan claimed that they attacked the policemen stationed there and that they entered the godown without permission.
“Around 3000 protestors reached near FCI godown at around 1 pm that day and tried to attack the police personnel stationed near FCI godown. They then attacked police personnel with an intention to destroy public property and cause danger to the lives of the police stationed there. I looked for the Divisional Magistrate who was posted there by the District Collector. Since I couldn’t find him, as the officer in charge of the place, I warned the crowd with a loudspeaker to disperse peacefully,” Nathan is quoted in the FIR.
He also claims that since the crowd continued to create havoc in the area by injuring the policemen, destroying the police vehicles and setting the public property on fire, he used tear gas and rubber pellets to bring the crowd under control.
“Finally, since nothing helped, I ordered one of my subordinate police officers to shoot at the crowd and disperse them. The policemen had fired twice at the sky and then only fired at the crowd injuring a few people. Those injured were sent to the hospital in ambulances,” he goes on to state.
While no one was killed in the police firing near the FCI roundana, a number of protesters were killed in the shooting near the Collectorate.
On Tuesday, it was revealed that Deputy Tahsildar Shekar had issued shooting orders in another location - Collectorate - to control the crowd.
It, however, remains an open question if an inspector of police is authorised to issue shooting orders as a crowd management measure.
Speaking to the TNM, MG Devasahayam, a retired IAS officer says that the inspector can order for shooting only in self-defence if there is an ‘immediate’ threat to life.
“It was absolutely illegal to order shooting in that area unless there is an immediate threat to their lives,” he argues.
The rules of engagement for police officers in India make it very clear that the use of firearms to control a crowd is allowed only in extreme and exceptional circumstances, and as a preventive measure, not as a punitive measure.
In a Precis on Crowd Control written in 2016 for the Bureau of Police Research and Development, retired IPS officer PPS Sidhu points out that there are three principles for use of force to control a crowd –
1. No more force should be used than is necessary;
2. It should not be used as a punitive measure;
3. It must cease immediately once the objective is gained.
Sidhu also points out that while using firearms, “The aim should be kept low (at the legs to avoid injuries) and towards the most threatening part of the crowd. Fire should cease as soon as the crowd disperses.”