Hurling stones and setting government vehicles and public property on fire, the agitators went on the rampage in the town, about 600 kilometres from Tamil Nadu's capital Chennai. "People of Thoothukudi need not worry", Tamil Nadu Director General of Police TK Rajendran said, adding that the police are trying to find out if the protestors died in the firing or in stone pelting.
Police then resorted to firing as thousands of people gathered in defiance of prohibitory orders on the 100th day of their agitation ever since the company announced the expansion plans of the four lakh tonne per annum Sterlite Copper project and attacked the Collectorate. "It's a total failure of police intelligence", Stalin said.
However, the protesters who Mint spoke to over the phone alleged that the residential complex was set on fire by the police and the collector's office was already filled with smoke when agitators approached the building. It also claims that the well-being of communities around it is the primary commitment of the company.
"The police took to shooting only to bring the protesters under control", said Fisheries Minister D. Jayakumar, while explaining the government's actions on the Thoothukudi protests to the media. Heavy police deployment could be seen in Toothukudi and surrounding areas of the coastal city. The police firing was unavoidable, he said. He said an inquiry commission would be set up to probe the incident and promised government jobs for family members of those who were killed.
Actor and Makkal Neethi Maiam chief Kamal Haasan had expressed solidarity with the protest. Chief Minister K Palaniswami said he was concerned over the protests and subsequent deaths. The activists believe that a plant such as Sterlite Copper plant would require large amounts of surface water and resources and hence could end up facilitating depletion of drinking water in the area and a shortage of agricultural supply, Indian Express reported.
About 20,000 people took out a procession towards the district collectorate and the copper plant with the intention of picketing them, demanding for its permanent closure, and resorted to violence, it said.
The chief minister also announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the families of each of those killed, Rs 3 lakh to those seriously injured, and Rs 1 lakh for people who suffered minor injuries. In April, the company had sought permission to renew operation licence from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, which was rejected by the board.