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The Sterlite Protest Firing took place on 22 May 2018 in Thoothukudi district, Tamil Nadu, India, when Tamil Nadu Police officers fired into a protest of 20,000 people. The crowd marched towards the district collector's office. The protest is against the Sterlite Copper factory which is believed to cause environmental pollution.
Location of Thoothukudi in India
|Location||Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu|
|Date||22 May 2018 (UTC+5:30)|
|Target||Protesters of Sterlite Copper|
|Weapons||L1A1 SLR battle rifle|
|Perpetrators||Tamil Nadu Police & Paramilitary forces|
Sporadic protests have occurred in Thoothukudi district in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu since 1999, directed against the Sterlite Copper smelting works. The factory is owned by Vedanta Limited, a subsidiary of Vedanta Resources. Protestors oppose soil, water and air contamination caused by the factory. An epidemiological study carried out by Tirunelveli Medical College in 2006–07 had found increased prevalence of respiratory diseases and ear, nose and throat (ENT) morbidity in the 5 km radius of Sterlite Industries. Their report blamed this on air pollution caused by the industry, Thermal power plants and automobiles – such as trucks and heavy vehicles – plying in this area.
Iron content in the groundwater in the area of the plant has been found to be 17–20 times the allowable limit, causing additional health problems for the population already experiencing higher than average incidence of respiratory diseases. The plant is less than 15 Km from the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve. More than 2.5 lakh (250,000) people live in the vicinity of the plant.
The Sterlite factory made headlines in 2013 due to an alleged gas leak which was not proven in court. The plant was blamed for health issues observed in the area related to gas leakage. Following the alleged gas leak in March 2013, the then chief minister, the late J Jayalalithaa, ordered its closure. The company appealed to the National Green Tribunal, which overturned the government order. The state moved the Supreme Court against it, where the petition was still pending. The plant closed on March 27 of 2018, with the company citing a 15-day maintenance process. The Supreme Court ordered the company to pay a 100-crore fine and the factory was temporarily shutdown by the pollution regulator.
After Sterlite announced its plans to expand the plant, people around Kumarettiyapuram village protested for more than 100 days. A major protest had been conducted peacefully till March 29, 2018. Some people alleged that the protests were organised by local churches which lured their parishioners to the assembly. A church bishop has denied this.
On May 22, 2018, thousands of people began to march to the district collector's office to submit a petition when section 144 was on implementation. When section 144 is on impose more than 4 people gathering is unlawful but an unofficial release said 20,000 people took out a procession towards the district collectorate and the copper plant. The police resorted to lathi charges against the protesters, suddenly they started throwing stones at the collectorate as well as the police officers. Anticipating threat to their own lives, in response the police opened fire over the unruly mob. Thirteen protesters were killed  including a 17-year old school student, and dozens were injured.
FIRs filed in local police stations claimed that the order to shoot was issued by officers in the rank of deputy tahsildars. Some people pointed out that only Collectors have the authority to issue shooting orders.
The Tamil Nadu government ordered a shutdown of Internet in the entire districts of Tuticorin, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari for five days after the firing.
- Indian National Congress party president Rahul Gandhi described it as "state-sponsored terrorism".
- Kamal Haasan was one of the first political leaders to arrive to Tuticorin to see the injured in the hospital, after the shootings.
- Vaiko and M.K.Stalin demanded investigations into the shootings. Seeman condemned the massacre, and his political party held a rally in Tirunelveli condemning the shooting.
- National Human Rights Commission of India demanded investigation into the killings. It asked its Director General (Investigation) to send a team headed by an SP to visit the spot and conduct an inquiry.
- Tamils and Tamil diaspora across the world including United States, Canada, Europe, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Australia held protests against the killing.
- In support of the protests The UK's Opposition, Labour Party, has called for Vedanta to be delisted from the London Stock Exchange. John McDonnell, the UK's Shadow Chancellor, said removing Vedanta Resources from the London financial markets would prevent reputational damage from the "rogue" company which has been operating "illegal" mining concerns for years. "After the massacre of the protestors this week, regulators must now take action. Vedanta must be immediately delisted from the London Stock Exchange to remove its cloak of respectability, restore confidence in the governance of the Stock Exchange, and prevent further reputational damage to London's financial markets from this rogue corporation," McDonnell said in a statement .
- Actor Rajinikanth said "anti-social elements" in the crowd had to be "dealt with an iron hand" and also stated that Tamil Nadu will become a graveyard if the people of the state continue to protest. Also, his anger reaction on media was criticized and his statements were brought negative impact on social media. Following his controversial statements regarding the Thoothukudi shooting scandal, the Tamil activist groups in Norway and Switzerland banned the release of Rajinikanth's Kaala in Norway and Switzerland by the scheduled world wide release date as of 7 June. The Tamil diaspora groups in Norway and Switzerland announced that they would not release the films of actors in the future who deliberately hurt the feelings and attitudes of Tamil people following the comments from Rajinikanth on Tamils. However, the ban was later on lifted and the film was released with a week delay resp. a day before the scheduled worldwide release in Switzerland and Norway, respectively.
On 28 May 2018, the Sterlite factory was sealed by an order of the Tamil Nadu Environmental pollutions and Forests Department. The next day, Tamil Nadu's State Industries Promotion Corporation (SIPCOT) announced that it would take back 342.22 acres of land that it had given for expansion of the facility. Many leaders including M.K.Stalin, Seeman and Anbumani Ramadoss criticised the sealing order, saying that it would not stand up to legal scrutiny since the government had given no reason for shutting down the factory.
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