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.
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.
The protests in London, a day after an entire statewide bandh (shutdown of businesses and services) in Tamil Nadu, and parallel global protests condemned the Tamil Nadu state government’s collusion in this corporate massacre.
On Wednesday 23 May, a day after the massacre, a large and noisy protest dominated by traditional Parai drummers was held at the India High Commission in London. Protesters called on the British government to launch an inquiry into the multiple legal, environmental and human rights violations by Vedanta Resources, and consider de-listing the company from the London Stock Exchange.
In India, blocking of of internet services in Thoothukudi and the neighbouring districts of Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari now on it’s fourth day was a point of concern expressed by those attending the protest. Authorities had banned the internet until Sunday 27 May..
Arbitrary arrests and house to house arrests continue in Tuticorin under a heavy security clampdown with the free flow of information heavily curtailed. Even accusations of state terrorism are rife.
On 22nd May tens of thousands of people democratically organised and thronged the streets of Tuticorin for the 100th consecutive day of protest against Vedanta subsidiary Sterlite’s copper smelter. The protest, as it was being organised was targeted by 17th May by Vedanta requesting the High Court to invoke the draconian Section 144, a curfew order against ‘Unlawful Assembly’. Vedanta’s request was to cover up to one kilometre around the smelter as a ‘no protest zone’ . The top district administrator, District Collector N. Venkatesh imposed Section 144 as the protest decided to march on the Collectorate to demand answers and action. When the rally reached the Collector’s office, police opened fire killing several protestors. Exact details of events especially as to who gave the order to shoot to kill remain unaddressed and there are now strong local demands seeking justice. The Section 144 is being abused even now to prevent legal support for victims.
John McDonnell MP Shadow Chancellor says:
“The news from Tamil Nadu that 13 protestors against Vedanta have been killed is shocking and demands action. This is a major multinational company that for years has operated illegal mining concerns, trashing the environment and forcibly evicting local people. 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.”
Samarendra Das from Foil Vedanta says:
“For 15 years since Vedanta’s London listing we have been warning the British government that this criminal company is undermining democracy across India and in Zambia whilst gaining a ‘cloak of respectability’ from London. This corporate massacre on a peaceful environmental movement must be the last straw. The UK government must now investigate and de-list this company.”
Karthik Kamalakannan from Tamil People in UK says:
“It is disgusting to learn that a British company has put its profits above human cries for safe air to breathe and water to drink. We are hugely shocked that sniper style shooters were employed to save this criminal company. The leaders of this peaceful environmental movement have been targeted by snipers, which is no surprise knowing reputation of Vedanta against any uprising against them. The internet blackout in Tuticorin destroys all semblance of democracy. This is a sad time for Tamil people.”
Prominent Thoothukudi Prof. Fatima Babu said on Thursday:
“The Madurai High court has delivered a favourable Verdict in a case that I had filed, but I am unable to savour the verdict. Thirteen declared dead and 102 injured. And this might not be the complete list. Is this a sacrifice the rulers want the people to make to drive out a single private corporate company? My heart is really heavy. Really heavy.”
British company Vedanta Resources’ subsidiary Sterlite Copper has begun construction of a new 4 million tonne/year smelter on the edge of the town of Tuticorin, almost doubling their capacity, but residents argue the existing smelter has continuously polluted their water and air since it was established in 1996, causing respiratory and skin problems, fainting and other illness, especially among children. Activists also claim that Sterlite obtained its Environmental Clearance illegally by falsifying information to statutory authorities, while the existing plant is regularly found to be dumping toxic waste in the town, and operating without proper licenses. The plant releases its waste into the sensitive Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve, an area of coral reefs and mangrove forests.
Vedanta’s only other copper smelter in Chingola, Zambia, is the subject of a precedent UK damages case on behalf of 2000 farmers who have been polluted by the plant since 2004.
Sterlite was the first company set up by British Indian billionaire Anil Agarwal in India before he launched Vedanta Resources on the London Stock Exchange in 2003, where it is now a multi-national FTSE 250 company with operations across India and Africa. The company even had operations in military-ruled Myanmar in the 1990s . Vedanta, which was named the ‘world’s most hated company’ by the Independent newspaper in 2010, has received considerable support from the British government, including the direct assistance of former Prime Minister David Cameron in buying out Indian oil company Cairn India in 2011.
The protest demanding Sterlite to shutdown their smelter in Tuticorin continued in to the evening outside Anil Agarwal’s mansion cum Vedanta Resource’s Head Quarters at 42-44 Hill Street, Mayfair. (See here details of 24 March 2018 solidarity protest at this venue )
UPDATE – 30th May 2018:
We hope to release a detailed article shortly covering what really happened on Tuesday 22 May as the protest taking people’s concerns to the District Collector N Venkatesh was met with violence. Fact finding teams are currently on the ground in Tuticorin, while an internet blackout in the area has hindered the release of information. Internet date services were restored to Thoothukudi and neighbouring districts on 27th May. Authorities had disconnected the Internet citing spread of rumours. What is described as an unofficial curfew in certain areas was relaxed. Information flow of the violence by the police has started emerging but what
exactly happened remains unaddressed. In advance of the coming article several important updates are included here:
On 27 May newspapers reported that several protesters remain ‘missing’, suggesting
the death toll could be higher than presently recorded in the mainstream media. The Hindu newspaper had corroborated shocking accusations of illegal detentions and torture of students and other protesters over the weekend. NDTV has now published differing
accounts of how the massacre had started with close range shootings without any warning to protesters. More information fortifying claims of a pre-planned attack on the
people’s rally marking 100 days of continuous protest is expected to emerge in the coming days.
On 28 May relatives of the dead were reporting police intimidation, as they steadfastly refused taking charge of bodies of loved ones until they receive written assurance that the smelter facility will close permanently. On Monday Tamil Nadu government directed the state’s pollution control board to seal the Sterlite factory premises and take action to permanently shut down the plant. A gazette order citing Water Act 1974 was furnished.
The demands of the people of Thoothukudi are also expected to be amended soon. Meanwhile London protests continued today at the London Stock Exchange demanding that Vedanta be de-listed for its crimes.