‘Gunning down a protest’ and ‘Sense of betrayal’: Frontline on Sterlite’s Thoothukudi massacre

The police lathi charge against anti-Sterlite protesters at VVD signal junction on 22nd May

12th June 2018. These in depth articles by Ilangovan Rajasekaran were carried as a cover story in Frontline magazine, 22nd June print edition.

The first covers the myriad police violations of 22nd May in Thoothukudi, including attempts to split the movement prior to the protest, and torture of youth after the fatal shootings. The second details the plight of Thoothukudi’s fishermen whose seas have been rendered barren due to pollution.

Gunning down a protest

The police open fire, in a “stage-managed” riot situation, on people protesting against the Sterlite copper smelter plant in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu. The death of 13 people and the grievous injuries suffered by many have only strengthened the residents’ resolve to fight against industries that threaten lives and livelihoods.

On the morning of May 22, Vanitha stood at the doorstep of her one-room house in Lion’s Town, a fishermen’s locality in Thoothukudi town in southern Tamil Nadu, and caught sight of her daughter waving to her from the street corner. The 18-year-old “darling” of her parents and two elder brothers was on her way to the Our Lady of Snows Basilica nearby. Residents had been asked to assemble there to participate in a rally to mark the 100th day of the “anti-Sterlite struggle”.

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London protests condemn Thoothukudi Vedanta Massacre; Demand action in India and the UK

26th May 2018 An angry protest took place today at the Indian High Commission in London. The people were condemning the police firing which killed at least 13 unarmed protesters at an environmental demonstration against British company Vedanta Resources’ copper smelter in Thoothukudi (Tuticorin), Tamil Nadu on Tuesday. There was a strong call from all groups present today to delist Vedanta from the London Stock Exchange, while Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell also sent a statement demanding that Vedanta is de-listed as a ‘rogue corporation’.

  • Recent updates on the ground situation in Tuticorin and ongoing UK protests are also included at the end of this post.

A large and diverse crowd gathered outside the Indian High Commission

There were many speeches and songs from the people today. They shared new information such as Sterlite’s donations to the Police control room in Thoothukudi and highlighted the parallels and called for solidarity with Gaza, Marikana and Kalinganagar massacres. The London protest was called by Foil Vedanta, Tamil People in UK, Periyar Ambedkar Study Circle, South Asia Solidarity Group, Tamil Solidarity, Parai Voice of Freedom and Veera Tamilar Munnani.

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The anti-Sterlite movement: Saga of a struggle

Crowds throng at 24th March 2018 public meeting

20th April 2018. This detailed history of the anti-Sterlite movement by Ilangovan Rajasekaran was first published in Frontline magazine on April 17. Reproduced with permission of Frontline and the author here.

In Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district, protests against Sterlite’s copper smelter plant get a second wind as local residents’ health and environmental concerns over the company’s expansion plan lead to the revival of a long-forgotten people’s movement.

PEOPLE of the port town of Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) in Tamil Nadu had never before poured out onto the streets in such large numbers as they did on March 24 in solidarity with the 100-odd residents of Kumareddiapuram who are waging a battle against the proposed Rs.3,500-crore expansion plan of Sterlite Industries (India) Limited’s giant copper smelter plant situated in the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu Limited (SIPCOT) complex that adjoins Kumareddiapuram and a few other villages.

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London and Tuticorin mass rally to ban Sterlite

Anil Agarwal's London mansion

Anil Agarwal’s London mansion

24th March 2018 A noisy protest took place at 42-44 Hill Street in Mayfair, London, today, as British Tamils armed with traditional Parai drums joined with major demonstrations in Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu, India, against the expansion of British company Sterlite’s copper smelter in the State. The London protest, which took place at the $20 million home of company boss Anil Agarwal, was called by Foil Vedanta, Tamil People in UK and Parai – Voice of Freedom.

See a short video of the London protest HERE

Coverage in Hindustan Times – British Tamils protest outside Vedanta chief Anil Agarwal’s home in London

The News Minute – Can you hear the voice of UK Tamils? Sterlite protests outside Vedanta founder’s house in UK

Ban Sterlite protest TuticorinMeanwhile in Tuticorin 250,000 people packed the streets for a major demonstration and public meeting organised by the Anti Killer Sterlite People’s Movement. Shutters on shops throughout the town were also down today following a total shutdown (bandh) called by The Merchant’s Association. This is the biggest protest yet against the Sterlite plant, and comes on the 40th day of continuous protest in the town, demanding that the plant is permanently closed and the expansion stopped. Permission for the protest was initially turned down by police but was successfully challenged by activists and granted by the High Court on 14th March.

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From Lonhro to Lonmin – the British colonial state’s deadly extractivism

Lonmin AGM 2018 Marikana16 March 2018. The AGM of Lonmin Plc in London yesterday was met with angry protests as three delegates from Marikana in South Africa addressed crowds before attending the meeting. Families and victims of the Marikana massacre, in which 34  platinum miners were shot dead by private security and police while on strike in 2012, still have no apology, no compensation and no justice.

At a public meeting later that day, the delegates – Jo Seoka, retired Bishop of Pretoria; Thumeka Magwangqana from Marikana women’s organisation Sikhala Sonke (“We cry together“); and Andries Nkome, the attorney 275 arrested and injured miners – described in detail the chilling events of the massacre, and the traumatised and impoverished state of the community today.

The Farlam Commission into the killings have now proven that orders to take drastic action against the striking miners came from government level, including from Lonmin Non-Executive director and 20% shareholder Cyril Ramaphosa, who is now President of South Africa. Platoons of heavily armed police were ordered to the strike with a number of mortuary vans instead of ambulances, showing that there was calculated intent was to kill large numbers of people. Razor wire was spread out around the miners to prevent them from running into the townships, and instead funnel them into the line of fire.

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Thoothukudi residents resist Sterlite expansion

Thoothukudi Sterlite protest

Children’s placards read: ‘Sterlite: mercy killers’

15th February.  On Monday up to 500 people declared a hunger strike and indefinite protest against the planned expansion of Vedanta subsidiary Sterlite’s copper smelter in Thoothukudi (Tuticorin), Tamil Nadu. Two days into the protest police rounded up and arrested 270 people including many women and children, eventually releasing all except eight so-called ringleaders including social worker and Anti Sterlite Struggle Federation Coordinator Professor Fatima Babu, who are still being held by police. Large groups of school children and their mothers made up the majority of the protest. Their placards and statements to the media demand an end to years of toxic pollution from the plant, which is causing respiratory diseases and fainting, especially affecting the children, with long term consequences to their health. Water is also being polluted, and huge amounts used by the plant, in an already water-stressed area.
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London ruling awards Zambia $139 million from KCM

Lionel Persey QC passed the judgment against KCM

Lionel Persey QC passed the judgment against KCM

18th Jan 2018 In the third major London case against Vedanta subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) since 2014, the English High Court on January 2nd ordered KCM to pay $139 million plus costs to Zambian government entity ZCCM Investment Holdings (ZCCM-IH) for sums owed as part of a copper and cobalt price participation agreement dating back to 2004, when Vedanta took over the Zambian copper mine. ZCCM-IH is the 20.6% shareholder of KCM. In February 2013 various claims of non-payment against KCM were the subject of a Settlement Agreement in which KCM agreed to pay a total of $119 million to ZCCM-IH in two instalments. However they subsequently reneged on the agreement after paying only $19 million, forcing ZCCM-IH to take them to London courts. In the High Court’s January summary judgment a further $36 million was awarded for KCM’s further breaching of the Settlement Agreement by making payments to its parent company Vedanta Resources while the amounts due to ZCCM-IH were still outstanding. (Download the full judgment here)

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Fraud mining company GCM faces protests in London again

GCM AGM 201712th December 2017. Despite the cold, a loud and theatrical protest was again held outside the AGM of British mining company Global Coal Resources Management (GCM) at the Aeronautical Society in 4 Hamilton Place in London at 10am today. In solidarity with the communities in Phulbari, where three people were shot dead as paramilitary officers opened fire on a demonstration of 80,000 people in 2006, protesters reaffirmed that they will not sleep until GCM is ousted from Bangladesh. A parallel protest followed by a press conference was held in Phulbari against the plans by GCM, an AIM-listed company who want to build a massive open cast coal mine by forcibly displacing 130,000 people in Phulbari, northwest Bangladesh. Inside the AGM in London, dissident shareholders asked questions on behalf of the communities in Phulbari and Dinajpur by accusing the company of human rights abuses as the CEO of the company has filed multiple arbitrary charges against 26 frontline defenders, indigenous farmers, small entrepreneurs and local leaders who opposed the mine.

A full report of the AGM proceedings from dissident shareholders can be found here: Flogging a Dead Horse: the 2017 GCM Resources AGM

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Fraud at the highest level: Tom Albanese and Guy Elliot may be banned from directorships

Albanese with Zambian government ministers on behalf of Vedanta in 2014

Albanese with Zambian government ministers on behalf of Vedanta in 2014

20th October 2017. On Tuesday the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a fraud case against Rio Tinto and two of its executives Tom Albanese (until recently Vedanta’s CEO) and Guy Elliot for inflating the value of a misguided coal deal with Mozambique in 2011. Rio Tinto was immediately fined £27.4 million by the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK for breaching UK listing rules. Albanese and Elliot now face major fines for ‘ill gotten gains’ plus interest, as well as a ban on serving as directors of any public company.

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Albanese presided over multiple human rights violations while serving as Rio Tinto CEO, and was finally forced to leave in 2011 following the disastrous $44 billion dollar decision to merge with Alcan in 2007 that had written off $9 billion, followed by the failed Mozambique coal deal (see previous article on this website). Guy Elliot has exercised considerable influence  over India’s mineral policy, telling Indian decisions-makers it should include a fast-track clearance procedure, and allow ‘security of tenure’, i.e. grant long-term lease rights to foreign mining companies in a speech at the India-UK Business Leaders’ Forum in June 2006.

Please read the Financial Times article: Rio Tinto charged with fraud in US and fined in UK  for more information.

Victory for Zambian farmers suing Vedanta in UK

Anil Agarwal at Vedanta AGM protest 2017, London13th October 2017. Judges today threw out Vedanta’s appeal to the May 2016 High Court judgment allowing Zambian farmers to have their case against the company heard in the UK. The judgment adds further weight to precedents holding UK companies legally responsible for the actions of their subsidiaries.

Judges today released their verdict on Vedanta’s appeal in the case of the Chingola communities suing UK company Vedanta Resources, and their Zambian subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), for pollution causing illness and loss of livelihood.

Press coverage:  New York Times – Zambian Villagers Win Right to Sue Vedanta in English Courts

Newsclick – Zambian villagers can now sue Vedanta in England over poisoning their water.

Legal analysis at Lexology.com – Jurisdiction and parent company liability – Court of Appeal keeps door ajar for extra-territorial human rights related claims

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