Thoothukudi/Chennai, May 24 (IANS) Thoothukudi remained tense for the third day as the death toll in police firing climbed to 13 while Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K. Palaniswamy on Thursday accused political parties and anti-social elements of “deliberately instigating and misleading” innocent people leading to violence and loss of lives.
Selvasekar (43), who suffered serious injuries in police lathicharge on Tuesday, succumbed to injuries in hospital. More than 70 people, including police personnel who were injured in the clashes and violence, were undergoing treatment in the Government General Hospital.
Meanwhile, an uneasy calm prevailed in Thoothukudi after two days of riots, arson and firing and the situation continues to be tense across the district. Shops and commercial establishments were shut for the third consecutive day while government offices witnessed thin attendance.
Chief Minister Palaniswamy, who met reporters in Chennai, said his government would continue to take steps legally for closure of the Sterlite copper smelter plant against which the local people have been protesting and said electricity to the plant was cut on Thursday.
“Some political parties and anti-social elements have wantonly instigated the innocent people who have been protesting peacefully all along and took them on the wrong path, leading to unfortunate incidents,” Palaniswamy said without naming any political party.
Replying to a question on who had given permission for the firing, he said there was nothing like permission.
“It was natural that somebody would act in self-defence when attacked and the action was not pre-meditated. The police used tear gas shells, resorted to lathi charge and then only opened fire when mobs set on fire vehicles near the district collectorate and stormed the residential quarters in the plant and the district collectorate,” he said.
Usualy the police make preventive arrests but this time there was sudden violence compared to the peaceful protest that had been going on. The protesters had met the district administration 16 times in the past and their grievances had been addressed.
“We express deep condolences and a sense of sorrow over the loss of lives,” he said.
Appealing to the people to maintain peace and calm, he said all efforts were being taken to ensure return of normalcy in Thoothukudi.
Asked about the charge by DMK leader M.K. Stalin that he refused to meet him on the issue, the Chief Minister accused him of enacting a drama outside his roon in the Secretariat by doing a dharna when he was not there.
Replying to a question about the criticism that he did not visit Thoothukudi to meet the relatives of the victims and the injured, he said prohibitory orders had been imposed and people should respect law by not holding protests or taking out processions.
“Our first priority is return of normalcy,” he said, taking an apparent dig at Stalin and other opposition leaders who have made a beeline to Thoothukudi.
Referring to the protests and the functioning of the sterlite plant, the Chief Minister said that the late Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha had ordered closure of the sterlite plant in 2013 but the company appealed against the order in the National Green Tribunal which allowed the company to operate under some conditions.
A case in this regard was still on in the Supreme Court and the Tamil Nadu government’s lawyers have strongly put forward their arguments.
With prohibitory orders continuing in sensitive areas, a bandh like situation prevailed in Thhothukudi town for the third day. Most people struggled to buy essential commodities. Internet services have been suspended folloing the state government advisory to the service providers to prevent provocative messages and rumours being spread on the social media.
Sanddep Nanduri, the new Collector of Thhothukudi, told newsmen that his first priority was to restore normalcy.
Meanwhile, a day after the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court stayed the expansion of the Sterlite plant and directed the Vedanta Group to cease construction of its second unit in Thoothukudi, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) ordered the closure of the plant with immediate effect and disconnected power supply to it for non-compliance of certain conditions imposed on it.