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Tamil Nadu: 15 workers' death due to hazardous working conditions at Sterlite preceded 11 gunned down by cops

By Our Representative
The view has grown that Tuesday's shooting in Tamil Nadu, which led to the death of 11 persons, including a 17-year-old girl, was the culmination of over two decades of "blatant" disregard for the lives and well-being of the people and protecting corporate interests. The company which is in the eye of storm following the shootout, Sterlite, was allotted land in Maharashtra in 1992, but was shifted to Tamil Nadu due to massive protest by the people of Ratnagiri.
A top civil rights networking organization, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), has said that the genesis and growth of Strelite in Tamil Nadu is "an example of how the deep crony capitalism is entrenched in our system", underlining, "The project received environmental clearance in January 1995, even before the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA)."
Pointing out that "there have been periodical complains made to the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) on health issues caused gas leak, draining toxic waste along with rainwater, polluting the groundwater", NAPM has said in a strongly-worded statement, "But each time Sterlite got a clean chit."
The statement has been signed, among others, by Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan; Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Shankar Singh of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan and National Campaign for People’s Right to Information; Prafulla Samantara of the Lok Shakti Abhiyan; Meera Sanghamitra and Rajesh Serupally of NAPM Telangana-Andhra Pradesh; and Dr Binayak Sen of the Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties.
"In 2013, the Supreme Court on hearing the people of Thoothukudi, gave a severe indictment to the company, but refused to shut it down", said NAPM, even as demanding a court-monitored judicial inquiry by a retired Supreme Court judge and action against senior political leaders, officials responsible for the "massacre".
NAPM said, the "violence" by the Tamil Nadu Police, during the "largely peaceful protests" against the Sterilite Copper Plant of Vedanta Pvt Ltd in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, follows people of Thoothukudi agitating against the pollution of ground water and air by the copper smelter for years.
The current phase of protest,it said, started in early March when the expansion of Sterlite plant to double capacity was announced. On the 100th day of protest, i.e. May 22, against Sterlite, 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.
"The Tamil Nadu police lathi charged, exploded tear gas shells and smoke bombs at the protesters without provocation", claimed NAPM, adding, "When people ran towards the collectorate, during which time certain government vehicles were reportedly torched, the police opened fire killing 11 people and injuring several others."
"Over 3,000 police personnel, including commandos with self-loaded rifles, were deployed to bring the ‘situation under control’," said NAPM, adding,"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 lathi entering hospital and beating up the injured!"
On March 24, 2018 a similar protest was called, participated by tens of thousands of people, with no untoward incident. This forced TNPCB and the Rural Development Officer (RDO), to take groundwater samples from seven locations within Sterlite factory premises and eight 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 time through court orders for violation of environmental safeguards, since 1998.
Pointing out that "at least 15 workers have died and many have been injured due to hazardous working conditions", NAPM said,"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."
Calling upon the Tamil Nadu government to honour the interim order of the Madras High Court issued onm Wednesday to stall all works of the plant and conduct a public hearing, NAPM demanded 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.
Also asking registration of FIR under Section 302 IPC 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", NAPM said, "The Government of Tamil Nadu has lost its ethical right to govern the state."

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