Tuticorin police firing: Probe panel report says ex-CM EPS failed to act on intelligence inputs

The issue could have been tackled effectively at the initial stage itself if it was taken up seriously, says the Commission report.

ByShilpa Nair

Published Oct 20, 2022 | 3:42 PM Updated Oct 20, 2022 | 7:05 PM


Justice Aruna Jagadeesan Commission of Inquiry has blamed the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Edappadi K Palanisamy (EPS), for failing to act on intelligence inputs that warned of a possible law and order situation in Tuticorin — now Thoothukudi — in 2018 May.

The Commission of Inquiry, constituted by the AIADMK government to probe the 2018 Tuticorin police firing incident — in which 14 people protesting against Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper Smelting Plant over environmental and health concerns were killed – made the accusation in its report that the DMK government tabled in the state Assembly on Tuesday, 18 October.

Terming the chief minister’s inaction a “classic instance of lethargy and indifference,” the Commission reported that “had this grave issue been seriously attended to, it is quite likely that the issue would have been tackled effectively at the initial stage itself.”

What does the report says about the former chief minister

Tuticorin police firing

Picture from May 22, 2018 when violence broke out on the 100th day of Anti-Sterlite protest which resulted in police firing. (Supplied)

The probe panel made specific reference to the intelligence gathered by the then Inspector-General (Intelligence), KN Sathiyamurthy.

The IPS officer had learnt that fishermen in Tuticorin were most likely to involve themselves in the protests organised by Leftist groups against the Sterlite Copper Smelting plant as a fishing ban was in place at the time. The received intelligence was promptly passed on to the then Director General of Police (DGP), TK Rajendran, the report said.

The DGP met the chief minister in Salem, and informed him of the situation. EPS was then holding the Home portfolio as well.

The Commission also noted that the DGP purportedly suggested the chief minister open a dialogue with the fishermen association through the Secretary of the Fisheries Department to dissuade them from taking part in the protest.

“The then Chief Minister would appear to have responded saying that he would do the needful. Unfortunately, the well-meaning efforts of the Intelligence Chief did not yield any result in as much as no follow-up action was taken immediately thereafter to diffuse the situation,” the panel report read.

The Commission stated it was “quite baffling to note how a message with a potential for grave law-and-order situation remained unattended even though relevant intelligence had been promptly conveyed to the Chief Minister.”

While noting that the attention of the then chief minister was drawn specifically by none other than the state intelligence chief, who also travelled to Salem to convey the message, the commission stated that the failure to act upon the intelligence was a “classic instance of indifference and lethargy”.

The probe panel also fact-checked the statement made by EPS that he came to know about the violence in Tuticorin only through media reports. This, according to the panel, was “incorrect” and “inaccurate” as top government officials had been providing the chief minister minute-to-minute updates on the developments.

Other findings

The Commission in its report has named top police officers who were found to have “certainly exceeded the limit” in dealing with the protests and the law-and-order situation on May 22, 2018.

The names included the then Inspector General of Police (South Zone) Shailesh Kumar Yadav (now ADGP, Police Welfare); Deputy Inspector General of Police (Tirunelveli Range) Kapil Kumar C Saratkar (now an Additional Commissioner of Police, Chennai city); Superintendent of Police (Thoothukudi) P Mahendran (now Deputy Commissioner (Admn), Chennai); and Deputy SP (Thoothukudi) Lingathirumaran.

The report also named three inspectors, two sub-inspectors, a head constable, and seven constables.

It further singled out the then District Collector N Venkatesh, now with the National Fisheries Development Board in Hyderabad. His “abdication of responsibility, gross negligence, and ill-conceived decisions” was highlighted in the report.

The panel also found no evidence to corroborate the then government’s claim that the police had opened fire because they could not control the crowd. It pointed out a lack of coordination between the district administration and the police department in handling the issue.

The Commission’s report also stated that those who had taken part in the rally on that fateful day were “unarmed and indulged only in stone-pelting.” There was no “imminent threat to the life and limb of the policemen,” it noted.