The sheer mishandling of the situation by police and the district administration has resulted in loss of 11 lives. A few more are critical in hospital. This is nothing but a fallout of a callous administration and indifferent officers.
Sterlite’s copper smelter plant courted controversy right from its inception. The plant now functioning from Thoothukudi originally was started in a coastal district of Maharashtra and commenced its operations. Due to local protest, the rulers of Maharashtra promptly threw out and Vedanta found a safe haven in Tamil Nadu where the then Chief Minister Jayalailtha gave a red carpet welcome. The subsequent DMK regime too welcomed Vedanta with open arms and there was no stopping of Vedanta.
But, the locals continued to agitate against the plant albeit with little success. The Sterlite which initially commenced production with 300 tons per day, applied to increase its capacity to 900 tons per day which too was promptly granted by both the Jayalalitha government and the Environment Ministry headed by none other than A.Raja.
In 2008, Sterlite applied to increase its production to 1200 tons which too was conceded by Karunanidhi, the then Chief Minister. However, in all these years Sterlite failed to fulfill even a single condition imposed on it by the Pollution Control Board like developing a green belt, etc.
Sterlite finding a favourable government in Jayalalitha, decided to double its capacity and announced ambitious plans to invest 3000 crores.
By 2018, the Thoothukudi people realised, that Sterlite will bulldoze its way in expanding its unit and double its capacity. Also the people lost all hope that the governments and the administraton would heed to their words. They also realised that their livelihood is at stake.
Agitations commenced in the third week of February this year. Unlike the previous times, this time the participation of the local population was large in numbers and an emotional connect with the agitation could be seen. From 21st February, everyday there were agitations in one form or other. But, neither Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisamy nor the district administration took the agitations seriously. They were under the impression that this is one more agitation by fringe groups. The brimming anger and the strong under current against the Sterlite / Vedanta and their patrons – read BJP / ADMK was never understood by the district administration.
At this point of time, on 11th April 2018, P.Ramnath, the CEO of Sterlite gave an interview that Sterlite will go ahead with the expansion plans and complete its 2nd unit, despite the agitations. The tone and tenor of the interview clearly conveyed a message that, the Vedanta group gave scant regard to people’s sentiments. The confidence expressed by the Sterlite CEO gave an unambiguous message that the ruling dispensation both at the center and at the state are in their pockets.
By this time anger was building up in Thoothukudi, due to the indifferent attitude of the state government. People’s patience ran out and serious discussions were held in small groups about taking the agitation to the next stage – something not peaceful.
The agitation was moving towards a grand climax and the administration was in deep slumber. Whenever such long agitations happen, senior police officers of the rank of Additional DGP and DGP would visit the spot and take stock of the situation and issue instructions. However, due to an apathetic Chief Minister most of the officers had a laid-back attitude and were running the administration in WhatsApp, say sources.
The intelligence wing of the Tamil Nadu government was headed by an Additonal DGP and two Inspector Generals were working under him. While one IG will take care of regular intelligence, the other will take care of internal security. But, this practise was discontinued, and the intelligence wing is now run by two IGs. C.Eswaramoorthy was handling the internal security and K.N.Sathyamoorthy has been handling the regular intelligence. Both the IGs send their reports to TK.Rajendran and the same is sent to Edappadi Palanisamy through the Home Secretary.
A senior police officer who wish to remain anonymous said that, during a law and order review meeting with Edappadi Palanisamy, the brewing anger among various sections of people, for several reasons was highlighted and it was pointed out that if no serious efforts are taken, situation may go out of hand. Edappadi Palanisamy was told about the agitations of people for Nutrino, Sagar Mala, Methane, Hydro carbon, Salem Green ways Project, Ariyalur Cement Factories, etc. However, neither Edappadi Palanisamy nor, TK.Rajendran understood the seriousness of the situation said the senior officer. The officer who apprised about the brewing trouble was in fact laughed at, said the senior cop.
Edappadi Palanisamy, being a novice and thoroughly inexprienced in running a state, and who doesn’t have any attitude to learn, was only concerned about the develoments in OPS camp, says a source in intelligence. While daily bulletins about the agitations and movements of various groups was sent by Internal Security, Edappadi was only intersted in political intelligence, adds that source. Edappadi Palanisamy was pestering IG Intelligence K.N.Sathyamoorthy to find a technology to intercept whatsapp calls and messages. He had asked Sathyamurthy to develop sources to find out about Income Tax / Enforcement Directorate in advance, added the source. Daily bulletins on internal security was gathering dust in Edappadi’s table and ultimately archived.
Another senior cop working in North Zone, had this to say about the Thoothukudi incident.
“The Thoothukudi agitation is mishandled by the Police and district administration. They failed to assess the minds and sentiments of the protestors. No senior police officer like DIG or IG were present till firing was opened. The agitation has been going on for the past three months.
Left wing extremist groups entered the villages and aggravated the situation. But no senior police officers including DGP or ADGP law and order have visited Tuticorin to review the situation. Similarly, no Secretary level officer had gone to review the situations. It is highly reprehensible. in the guise of protest various anti social elements and political elements infiltered the protest and misguided the villagers with a support of a section of Media. Common people of Tuticorin are of the view that Government should have given some importance to the Sterilite issue as they have given importance to Gutkha case. Police are demoralised and they are not capable of handling major protest as senior officers are not bother about the law and order.
This is the right time to review the performance of the Police and take appropriate action to rectify the same. Otherwise it is inevitable to face grave situations further”.
The senior officer is not exaggerating. The police and administration were completely unprepared for what was about to happen on 22nd May 2018.
Another reason attributed for the Black Wednesday is that IG Internal Security C.Eswaramoorthy proceeded for mid career training to Police Academy at Hyderabad. K.N.Sathyamoorthy, IG Intelligence now holds additional charge of Internal Security. The posts of DIG Intelligence and DIG Internal Security are lying vacant for more than one and a half year.
IG Intelligence K.N.Sathyamoorthy is only bothered about pleasing CM Edappadi Palanisamy with political intelligence which sounds as music in Edappadi’s ears. Sathyamoorthy continues to feed him crap say sources.
At the height of it all, while agitations continued to reach feverish pitch in Thoothukudi, K.N.Sathyamoorthy, accompanied Edappadi Palanisamy to his sojourn to hill stations – Ooty & Kodaikanal from 17.05.2018 to 20.05.2018 leaving behind two of his useless Superintendents of Police in charge.
Sources say, the district administration was completely unprepared for 22nd May in spite of knowing well in advance.
The Vedanta group, in fact filed a Writ Petition before the Madurai Bench of the Madras High court demanding, promulgation of 144 prohibitory orders on Thoothukudi. Vedanta mainly cited the pamphlet by ‘Makkal Adikaram’ a left extremist outfit. The Madras High Court, in its order dated 18th May 2018, said
“It is not in dispute that the pamphlets calling upon the general public to protest on 22.05.2018 for closing the factory, has been widely circulated. The wordings in the pamphlets also indicate that the protestors do not have any intention to conduct a peaceful protest.
On a overall reading of the pamphlets as well as taking into consideration of the various disturbances and untoward incidents happening in an around the petitioner factory, the proposed protest is likely to trigger a law and order situation and in this scenario invoking Section 144 of Cr.P.C would be highly recommended in public interest. This recommendation is being consciously made in view of the earlier antecedents where several cases have been registered against violators and the present pamphlet also indicates the possibility of an unlawful assembly and an illegal protest.”
The government of Tamil Nadu was a party in this litigation. But the government was totally unprepared.
A middle level officer in intelligence say, an ordinary head constable who was entrusted with the job of gathering intelligence, reported that around 200 people had gathered at a Thoothukudi church. He reported to his Inspector, who reported to a DSP in Ramanathapuram, who then contacted the SP in Chennai. When the intelligence wing prepared an ‘alert report’ to district administration, the crowd had swelled to 1000. This red tapism, lack of man power, and lack of coordination resulted in the Black Wednesday, said the officer.
I had seen an officer of the rank of DIG, meeting leaders of various Hindu groups and Muslim leaders in Triplicane, just ahead of the Vinayaka Idol procession to coordinate with them and convince them not to create trouble. One-to-one talks had always helped and many a times, violence was averted.
But on 22nd May, except DIG Tirunelveli Range Kapilkumar Sarathkar Chindurao, no other senior officer was present at Thoothukudi. Also, due to lack of proper instructions, and preemptive measures, the crowd swelled and marched towards Collectorate. By 10.30 am, stone pelting commenced and lathi charge was ordered. But the small number of policemen were no match for the crowd surging in waves. Due to lack of command, and minimum strength, the police retreated which emboldened the crowd.
The crowd turned into a mob and it was free for all. Around 45 two wheelers parked inside Thoothukudi collectorate were set on fire and five government vehicles were also burnt. Window panes in Collectorate were smashed and collectorate staff ran for their life and took shelter in the District Police Office adjacent to collectorate. The mob entered the collectorate and started burning the files and at that time, it is not clear who gave the firing order. 8 people were killed in police firing, inside the collectorate compound itself.
There was no chain of command, no coordination and it was total chaos. No government Minister or ruling party functionary visited Thoothukudi even after three days.
The complete paralysis of administration was evident when one more person was killed in police firing even on 23rd May.
As usual, in a knee jerk reaction, Edappadi Palanisamy immediately announced compensation of Rs.10 lakhs for the dead and a Commission of Inquiry headed by retired Justice Aruna Jegadeesan.
Commissions of Inquiry were time and again used by the rulers both at the center and here at the state to give a ceremonious burial to a burning issue. The Commission of Inquiry Act, The Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952 comes in as a handy tool for the governments.
Be it the Mohan Commission appointed to enquire into the Manjolai / Thamirabarani incident nor the Shanmugam Commission appointed to inquire into both the illegal phone tapping incident or the law students clash issue. Or the recent Sampath Commission appointed to probe the Paramakudi incident in which 6 people were killed in police firing. All these Commissions invariably toed the line of the government and absolved the police of any wrong doings. Justice Rajeswaran Commission appointed to probe the Marina violence following the jallikattu agitations, got four extensions and Rajeswaran shamelessly continues enjoy salary in taxpayers money and all the paraphernlia that comes with it, without doing any fruitful work.
In the terms of reference for all commissions of inquiry, the last reference would be “To suggest measures and changes required to prevent such incidents in the future”. But all the recommendations given by various Commissions of Inquiry are gathering dust in Secretariat’s Public Department.
And the Aruna Jegadeesan commission is one more in the list. Commissions of Inquiry are a convenient way to wriggle out of a messy situation for a government. And there is no dearth of retired High Court judges with begging bowl seeking alms and governments always find a pliant judge and Aruna Jegadeesan is no exception.
Even as High Court Judge, Aruna Jegadeesan had a very poor reputation and the talk among advocates is that her husband Mr.Jegadeesan is the collection agent. To instances can be cited about the integrity of Justice Aruna Jegadeesan.
In the first instance was with regard to Selvi J.Jayalalitha.
When the noose was tightening around Selvi J.Jayalalitha, in the assets case in Bengaluru, Justice Aruna Jegadeeesan, gave a relief to her which would have prolonged the trial for another 15 years. Times of India, reported on Aruna Jegadeesan’s generosity to Jayalalitha as :” On Wednesday, in an order that could endlessly delay completion of the ongoing wealth case trial against the chief minister and her associates in a special court in Bangalore, Madras high court set aside the attachment of properties owned by 22 companies in which she was suspected to be either owner or director of shareholder. Justice Aruna Jagadeesan of the HC also directed the special court to implead all the 22 companies/firms and hear them before deciding on attaching their properties.”.
When the Supreme Court had categorically ruled that Trial has to be completed fast, Aruna Jegadeesan took a 4 year old case and ordered that the trial court in Bengaluru should give a fresh hearing to 22 benami firms of Jayalalitha, and decide on the attachment of properties. While the attachment of properties were under the jurisdiction of Special Court in Bengaluru, Aruna Jegadeesan, as Judge of High Court of Madras issued direction to Bengaluru Special Court. It is very relevant to point out that the Special Public Prosecutor for assets case, Bhavani Singh didn’t even appear before the Madras High Court but, a TN government advocate, which state is ruled by the accused herself (Jayalalitha) appeared in Madras HC.
While a Special Court constituted by the Supreme Court is trying the assets case against Jayalalitha, Justice Aruna Jegadeesan went to the extent of ecording a finding that many of the assets involved in the Jaya assets case don’t belong to the accused (Jayalalitha and others) at all.
It can now be understood why Edappadi Palanisamy, chose retired Justice Aruna Jegadeesan to head the Commission of Inquiry. To read an article in this regard click.
The second instance relates to two cases of CBI.
Following the trap and arrest of Medical Council of India Chairman Ketan Desai, the CBI stumbled upon several fraudulent approvals granted by him, for colleges without infrastructure, faculty, and even patients. Three such colleges are, Melmaruvathur Adhiparasakthi Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, Sri Lakshmi Narayana Institute of Medical Sciences (Puducherry) and Shri Sathya Sai Medical College and Research Institute. Lakshmi Narayana college is owned by former Union Minister Jagatharatchagan. During the MCI inspection, Jagatharatchagan brought, villagers from nearby villages paid them 100 rupees per head and made them lie down like inpatients. Other colleges also adopted similar tactic.
The CBI in its charge sheet said, all these three colleges had got MCI approval by showing fake patients, presenting fake faculties who were not working in the medical colleges and by providing false documents.
Justice Aruna Jegadeesan, before whom all these colleges filed a petition for quashing of charge sheet found a strange interpretation of law. In her judgment quashing the charge sheets against all the three colleges, she said, “there is in built mechanism “self-contained provisions” to deal with medical institutions and it is wrong on the part of CBI to slap cases against the colleges.
Due to the benevolence of Justice Aruna Jegadeesan, all the three fraudulent colleges gone scot free and managed to mint money till day.
This is the reason why Edappadi Palanisamy found Justice Aruna Jegadeesan as a fit person to probe Thoothukudi firing and killings.
Now it would be clear, why TN Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisamy, chose Justice Aruna Jegadeesan to head the Commission of Inquiry on the Thoothukudi killings.
As pointed out by the Hindu in its editorial, the Thoothukudi killings were entirely preventable.
The Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisamy and Deputy Chief Minister Panneerselvam are living in a Fool’s paradise unconnected with reality and the woes of the people. It is time this government goes. They neither have remorse nor shame for their mishandling which resulted in 13 deaths. On 23 May 2018, when the whole state was in pain due to the deaths and situation was still tense in Thoothukudi, Dy CM O.Panneerselvam and his party senior functionaries attended the puberty function of Vaigai Selvan’s daughter.
The eighteenth century playright Dennis Fonzvin rightly said “A fool is very dangerous when in power”
PS: In the Shanmugam Commission of Inquiry appointed to probe the illegal phone tapping in which, the writer was one of the accused, the present DIG Tirunelveli, Kapilkumar Saratkar IPS was the Investigating Officer, and he conducted sustained interrogation of this author. In a strange twist of fate, Kapilkumar Saratkar as DIG of Tirunelveli will be interrogated / cross-examined in the Justice Aruna Jegadeesan Commission of Inquiry. What a strange twist of fate !!!