71 anti-Vedanta protesters charged for 2018 Sterlite Copper violence in Tamil Nadu

The police have charged 71 people for rioting and arson during the deadly protests over environmental concerns at Vedanta Ltd’s copper smelter in Tamil Nadu three years ago.  

Police had opened fire to beat back the protesters in the southern seaside town of Thoothukudi where 13 people were killed, causing national outrage and the subsequent closure of the Sterlite Copper plant in May 2018 for alleged pollution.

The Central Bureau of Investigation has framed charges on 17 counts including damage to public property and possession of deadly weapons, one of the sources said. These charges carry a maximum penalty of up to seven years in prison.

Witnesses had said after the incident that police opened fire without warning in violation of the police manual, prompting demands from political parties in Tamil Nadu that police officers be held accountable.

The CBI accused “identified and unidentified persons with dishonest common intentions of committing riots.” The accused knew “fully well that they are forming an unlawful assembly and prevented policemen from discharging duty.” 

Vedanta’s Copper smelter is one of only two major copper smelters in India and it had announced plans to double its capacity, igniting protests from residents and workers worried it would damage the air and water of the town.

The environmental protest was the deadliest in India in a decade. A working group of United Nations’ human rights experts condemned the “apparent excessive and disproportionate use of lethal force by police”.

Twelve of the protesters were killed with shots to the head and chest, autopsy reports later showed. Half of the victims were shot from behind, the post-mortem reports showed, potentially indicating that those shot were not an immediate threat to police. 

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