On May 22, 2018, police fired into a crowd of protesters near the Collectorate in Tuticorin (Thoothukudi) in Tamil Nadu to mark the 100th day of peaceful protests against the proposed expansion of the Sterlite Copper Smelting Plant. By that evening, 11 people had been killed, and four more died over the subsequent days. Here are the findings of a people’s inquest into the matter.
The government claimed that the police’s actions were because the protesters engaged in violence. However, eye-witness accounts, pictures, video and reports in the media as well as from social media shed light on the police’s behaviour on the day, when they allegedly attacked the protesters and also fired live ammunition in the crowd. The internet was also shut down until May 25, and Section 144 of the CrPC was imposed until May 27.
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Proof collected from the various sources prompted questions regarding the behaviour of the police and the district administration, leading to the formation of the Coordinating Committee of People’s Inquest (PI) into Thoothukudi Police Firing by several civil society organisations and individuals. The committee conducted an independent People’s Inquest (PI) on June 2-3, 2018 in Tuticorin. As the PI report notes, its mandate “was specifically to look at the events that led to the 100 days of peaceful protests at Thoothukudi; the rally to the Collectorate on May 22; and killings, arbitrary detentions, cases of torture and police initiation of May 22 and thereafter.”
ObservationsKey observations from the report include the fact that the march was held only following multiple failed attempts to meet with the District Collectorate and submit a memorandum demanding the permanent closure of of the Sterlite plant. The report has noted that the district administration’s “irregularities” in conducting peace talks on May 20 “indicate that the proposed march was perceived a ‘disruption’ that needed ‘police action’ than a citizen’s movement.” Moreover, FIRs filed in the police firing case indicate that the Deputy Tahsildars who directed the police to open fire had no jurisdiction over the area, and that the District Magistrate was absent from the headquarters.
ConclusionsThe report has concluded, among other things, that the administration had completely knowledge about the preparations for the rally as well as its scale and purpose, “but deliberately neglected to arrange for the safety of the rallyists”. Moreover, “by deliberately absenting themselves from the vicinity on May 22 the entire administration abnegated its duties in a cowardly manner and ceded all civilian authority and power to the police,” which PI believes “amounts to dereliction of duty of public servants.” It also concluded that the police failed to reach out to the marchers or make arrangements for their rally, and that they “did not follow standard operating procedures to disperse the crowd”.
RecommendationsThe PI’s report outlines a number of recommendations, including the following:
- The complete halting of all operations of Sterlite
- Cleaning up and restoration of air, water and soil following the pollution caused
- The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) must make sure the report by its investigative team is available to all those who have petitioned the commission so that they can take further action if necessary
- The enactment of a strong law that adheres to international standards regarding the recognition and protection of human rights defenders
- The creation of an independent body to consider various aspects of the currently “toothless” National Voluntary Guidelines for business and “initiate processes for creating statutory entitlements for the communities”
- Establishing and strengthening business and human rights redressal systems in the NHRC and National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI)
The entire Tuticorin People’s Inquest Report may be read here. The details of the FIRs filed may be read here. Witness Testimonies in English may be read here. A Summary of the findings and recommendations may be read here.
The inquest was conducted by over 20 prominent civil society members including activists, lawyers, journalists, former judges and bureaucrats. Some of the key members include:
- Justice (Retd.) B.G. Kolse Patil, Former Judge, Bombay High Court
- Justice (Retd.) Hariparanthaman, Former Judge, Madras High Court
- Mr. Jacob Punnose IPS (Retd.) Former Director General of Police, Kerala & Special Rapporteur NHRC
- Mr. R.B.S. Sreekumar IPS (Retd.) Former Director General of Police, Gujarat
- Ms. Pamela Philipose, Senior Journalist, New Delhi
Feature Image: An officer targeting civilians during anti-Sterlite protests in Tuticorin, PTI
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