Deadly protests in India spark suspension of copper smelting plant's expansion

Indian police kill 12 in protest over copper plant

CHENNAI: Outrage swelled Wednesday over the deaths of 10 protesters at a rally over a copper plant in southern India, after police opened fire on demonstrators in what critics termed "mass murder".

Calls for the copper smelting plant owned by British mining giant Vedanta Resources to be closed had been building in recent months, with residents complaining it was polluting their city. According to police and government, the protesters pelted stones at the policemen and also set their vehicles on fire.

Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami has ordered a judicial inquiry into the shootings but defended the police response.

The chief of Vedanta's India copper business, P. Ramnath, told Reuters on Friday the company would legally fight any attempt to close the plant and it aimed to "build our bridges" with the community.

Meanwhile, the protests which have been on for almost 100 days, took a turn for the worse when protestors began ransacking and putting vehicles and public property on fire.

"The police had to take action under unavoidable circumstances to protect public life and property", said K. Palaniswami, the top official in Tamil Nadu state.

Plans to double its capacity are also under threat after a local court delivered an interim order staying the expansion until a further hearing, to be held by September 23, Vedanta said Wednesday. He met some of the protestors injured in the police firing.

Source Kamal Haasan  Twitter
Source Kamal Haasan Twitter

Large-scale violence on May 22 against the Sterlite copper plant and police firing led to the death of 12 persons and the next day saw one more youth succumbing to injuries sustained in police firing.

"We are further studying the order and shall keep the stock exchanges updated on any developments", Vedanta said in a filing to the exchanges late in the evening.

The order was given on a PIL filed by R Fatima of Thoothukudi against Sterlite's application for renewal of environmental clearance for the second plant, which when completed, would double its annual copper-refining capacity to 800,000 tonnes.

Environmentalists and locals allege the plant is contaminating water resources, a charge denied by the company. Rahul Gandhi, leader of the opposition Congress party, said it was "state-sponsored terrorism".

The families of each victim would be offered 1 million rupees (£11,000) compensation, he added.

Vedanta said in a statement it regretted the incidents and was working with authorities to ensure the safety of its employees, facilities and the surrounding community.

Tamil Nadu is one of India's most industrialised and prosperous states, and similar protests over environmental concerns have turned deadly. The activists repeatedly voiced environmental concerns, saying that the plant causes serious health problems among local residents.

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