ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Why Thoothukudi Exploded

Many questions remain unanswered following the death of 13 people agitating against Sterlite Copper.

What happened on 22 May in Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) in Tamil Nadu, when the police shot down 13 people who were part of thousands agitating against the Vedanta-owned Sterlite Copper plant, is important for a number of reasons. The most obvious is the egregious use of force by the police that failed to use standard crowd control methods and instead, as seen in videos on television, deployed sharpshooters to aim and shoot down people. Although an inquiry has been ordered, given the track record of such investigations by the state, it is not likely to assuage the anger of people or the distress of the families who lost one of their own in the firing.

The larger challenge, one that India has consistently failed to address, is how to ensure that industrialisation is not at the cost of the health of people and the environment. Despite laws and conventions, ways to sidestep these and err on the side of industrial interests have now been perfected to a fine art. Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of Sterlite Copper in Thoothukudi. Public memory is notoriously short. The rest of India woke up to the resistance against the copper smelter only on 22 May when the media conveyed photographs of the massive crowds, the violence, including burning of public property and then the brutal response of the police. Yet, it was in 1994 that Sterlite Copper had come to Tamil Nadu after it was virtually chased away by local communities from Goa, Gujarat and Maharashtra. In fact, in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, thousands of horticulturists came out to oppose the location of the plant on the legitimate fear that the pollution from it would destroy their main source of livelihood. In the end, the state government was compelled to support the people’s agitation and ask Sterlite Copper to relocate.

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Updated On : 29th May, 2018
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