Sterlite case: Why the people of Tuticorin feel let down by the NGT's order

On May 22, the coastal town of Tuticorin changed forever after ghastly police firing on the 100th day of protests against Vedanta’s Sterlite copper plant. Many lost their limbs, livelihoods and loved ones. Now, the NGT wants Sterlite to reopen.

 |  5-minute read |   20-12-2018
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Anger and grief wash over 21-year-old Princeston as he sits in his modest one-bedroom house at Millerpuram in Tuticorin. He was one of the victims of the police firing on that fateful day of May 22. An aspiring engineer, Princeston was on his way to work when a bullet pierced through his right leg near the Polytechnic College signal.

As he recuperated in hospital for five months, his parents ran from pillar to post in the district collectorate to get sanctions for prosthetics. He was given a job in the Taluk office on compassionate grounds.

The scars of that fateful day continue to haunt Princeston as he struggles to get back to normalcy.

“My entire life changed in that one second. My dream of working abroad to support my family has crashed. They had to amputate my right leg above the knee as there was severe damage to the nerve. Though I have the support of prosthetics, I am unable to wear this for a long time as it starts to hurt. I am unable to balance when I walk on an uneven surface,” explains Princeston.

tuticorin-copy_121918064611.jpgThe scars of that fateful day continue to wound Tuticorin. (Photo: PTI)

The coastal town of Tuticorin changed forever after the ghastly police firing during the 100th day of protests against Vedanta’s Sterlite copper plant on May 22. In the event, 13 people lost their lives and over 200 are still healing from their wounds. The NGT’s order to reopen the copper smelter comes as a severe blow to the survivors and families who lost their loved ones.

“My husband was one of the 13 people who were prey to the police atrocity. He participated in the protest because Sterlite affects all of us. Our water, air, everything is polluted," said Jesurani, wife of Gladstone, who was shot dead at point-blank range in Therespuram fishing hamlet.

“After my husband’s death, my son was forced to work. He earns only Rs 3,000. I am struggling to make ends meet. I am shocked to hear the NGT order," she adds.

Seven months after the police firing, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probing the violence has registered a case against unknown police and revenue officials for criminal intimidation and conspiracy. Locals question why the investigation agency has not identified police officials, despite video evidence and complaints submitted to the agency.

tutecorin1-copy_121918064646.jpgThe closure of Sterlite, an employer of a large number of contract labourers, has dented the district's industrial growth. (Photo: PTI)

The family of Jhansi Rani is unable to cope with her loss. An afternoon stroll to her daughter’s house claimed the life of the 40-year-old homemaker who was not even aware of the protests. Recalling the events of that fateful day, Arockia Mary, her sister, explains that Jhansi’s entire world was her family and she was a mere bystander when a bullet misfired and hit her in the head.

“Just outside Jhansi’s daughter's house, the police beat up youngsters. Jhansi was watching all of this and that is when a bullet hit her. The police don’t have consideration for human life. Why has the government still not been able to find the policemen who killed my sister and 12 others? Who ordered the police firing? What punishment has been meted out to these barbarians?”, are the questions that fill the air.

Meanwhile, the closure of Sterlite, an employer of a large number of contract labourers, has dented the industrial growth of the district.

Those who lost their jobs due to the closure of the plant have felt the pinch. Mahendran, a contract labourer working in the transport department for the last 17 years, said he is unable to find a job outside for the same salary.

A panel of experts set up by the NGT last month said the authorities in Tamil Nadu had failed to comply with procedures before shutting down the smelter. Not deterred by the NGT order, the Tamil Nadu government will knock on the doors of the apex court over the issue.

tuticorin2-copy_121918064748.jpgA sniper atop a police van was one of the most chilling images of how the police handled civilian protestors at Tuticorin. (Photo: PTI)

The activists in the forefront of the protests against the corporate giant said they do not see the verdict as a setback. “The verdict has strengthened our resolve to fight this case. We are fighting this for the past 25 years. We will not rest till our grievance is addressed,” said Fatima Babu, an activist.  

While the state government fights the battle, Sterlite Copper is confident of resuming operations in its plant.

Highlighting the company’s stand, A.Sumathi, Associate Vice President, Sterlite Copper, said the NGT order has reposed faith in the company. “The plant has been engaging 3,500 contract employees. There has been a loss of livelihood because of the closure of the plant. It is felt by the people. We see a larger population who wants us to reopen at the earliest”.

Also read: Why the image of man in a yellow shirt with a sniper shooting at Tuticorin protesters will haunt us


Lokpria Vasudevan Lokpria Vasudevan @lokpria

Principal Correspondent with India Today TV.

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