The death of nine people in Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu to police bullets has raked the national political environment with most opposition parties voicing significant displeasure over the police action on agitators.

A large crowd had gathered at the Vedanta group’s Sterlite Copper plant to protest against the pollution concerns and demanding immediate closure of the plant on Tuesday.

Police opened fire on a crowd of about 20,000, demanding scrapping of proposed expansion of the copper smelter of Sterlite Copper, attempted to march to the district collectorate in Tuticorin. The crowd also set a number of vehicles on fire too.

Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu K Palaniswami has ordered an investigation into the incident. The state Governor Banwarilal Purohit condoled the deaths.

The protesters took out a procession towards the collectorate defying the prohibitory orders clamped in the specific area in Tuticorin, 600 km from Tamil Nadu’s capital Chennai, said Palaniswami. The protesters started vandalism. Reports say protesters hurled stones and set government vehicles and public property on fire, he said.

According to a senior official of the Tamil Nadu police, if the police did not fire, the protesters would have ransacked the district headquarters. Reports say that police fired again in the evening to disperse the crowd.

The tragic incident has evoked sharp reactions from parties, including Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).

CM Palaniswami confirmed that the nine people lost lives in “police action” even as DGP T K Rajendran chose not to divulge too much on the issue. Rs 10 lakh to the families of each of the dead will be given by the government.

On Wednesday morning, section 144 was imposed in the city to prevent any unpleasant incidents. The security has been tightened and shops remained closed.

The government said in their official statement that the plant was in operation in Meelavitan in Tuticorin for the past 20 years. Earlier this year, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) rejected Sterlite’s application seeking renewal of consent to operate the plant because of non-fulfilment of green norms, including those related to disposal of copper waste and effluents. The agency said that the company later moved the Appellate Authority and the next hearing is slated for June 6.

National politics has been stirred by this incident.

DMK Working President and Leader of Opposition, MK Stalin, has termed the Police action as the “inhumane”. He said that the state government committed a “Himalayan blunder” by handling the protest with “guns and teargas shells” and demanded an inquiry by a sitting high court judge along with a compensation of Rs 1 crore. He also said that he would not join the swearing ceremony of H D Kumaraswamy to protest the incident and would head for Tuticorin to take stock of the situation. The incident is as similar as to the British era Jallianwala Bagh massacre, said MDMK founder Vaiko.

CPI (M)’s state unit demanded the chief minister’s resignation. The opposite parties like PMK, DMDK, Congress, and the MNM criticised the violence and police action. Superstars Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan have condemned the government’s action. Kamal Haasan went to Tuticorin.

“The gunning down by the police of 9 people in the #SterliteProtest in Tamil Nadu, is a brutal example of state sponsored terrorism. These citizens were murdered for protesting against injustice. My thoughts & prayers are with the families of these martyrs and the injured,” tweeted Rahul Gandhi criticising the Tamil Nadu government.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said in a tweet: “I just landed in Bengaluru to the shocking news about the incident near the Sterlite Tuticorin plant. My thoughts and prayers with the people of Tamil Nadu at this hour of grief. My deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives and hope the injured recover soon.”

(Adapted from Financial