A 23-member team of retired judges, officials, academics and journalists has blamed the police for the violence that broke out on May 22 when the people of Thoothukudi people on the 100th day of their campaign for closure of the Sterlite Copper Smelter leading, to firing in which 14 persons died. It alleges over 200 were injured, and many of them are maimed for life.
In a voluminous report, a kind of public inquest, based on testimonies and eye-witnesses accounts, the team also blames the district administration for failing to warn the marchers about imposition of prohibitory order the night before the march to the district collectorate on May 22. It points out that the district collector was not in town that day, thus leaving it the police to handle the situation.
It further alleges that police themselves indulged in arson and stone-throwing to justify their firing and said the intention was not to disperse the crowd but to intimidate leading campaigners against Sterlite and cites the gunning down of Jhansi, a leading protestor, in Theraspuram, miles away from the rally point.
It alleges that the police failed to follow standard operating procedures to disperse the crowd. "The police used excess force in many separate places and at many different times against the marchers, often without provocation. Eye-witness accounts strongly suggest police resorted to firing not to disperse the crowd but to intimidate, hurt and panic them."
The People's Inquest team includes former Justice of the Madras High Court Hariparanthaman, former Haryana Chief Secretary MG Devasahayam, Madras High Court Lawyer Geeta Ramaseshan, Convenor of the Corporate Responsibility Watch Tom Thomas, and Senior Advisor at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Maja Daruwala among others.
The report, released in Chennai on Sunday, says “, “..Police powers are being abused to conduct searches, make unjustified spot arrests”, and hold people in illegal custody.
The report states that the authorities have been deploying a system of filing "open FIRs"- a way of stacking on multiple names to a single complaint- “as a device to threate and prevent victims, eyewitnesses and concerned citizens from filing complaints against the police”.
It further alleges that the continuing police presence in the town is aimed at breaking the anti-Sterlite movement.