The State government on Wednesday banned internet services in Thoothukudi, Tirunelveli and Kanniyakumari districts for five days, starting Wednesday. The move came amid intensifying protests across the State, condemning the police firing in Thoothukudi which left 12 anti-Sterlite protesters dead in the last two days.
In a letter to internet service providers in the State, Home Secretary Niranjan Mardi said provocative messages were being spread on social media, with anti-social elements trying to exploit the situation. “A public emergency has arisen, which necessitates immediate action and speedy remedy for the [sake of] public tranquillity, and it is felt necessary that internet services should be stopped/curtailed to prevent the spread of such information,” the letter read.
Mr. Mardi said some people had died in police action during the protest against the Sterlite factory in Thoothukudi on May 22, 2018, in which around 20,000 people took part. Some of the protesters indulged in violence. “This mass gathering of people was achieved mainly through the information passed via social media,” he said.
Invoking the provisions of the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017, he directed the service providers to prevent transmission of data related messages to or from people by suspending internet services throughout Thoothukudi, Tirunelveli and Kanniyakumari districts in the interest of maintaining public order.
A high-level alert has been sounded across Tamil Nadu, with intelligence agencies warning of possible attacks on public transport and sabotage of railway tracks in the backdrop of State-wide protests planned by political parties, fishermen and others. The State Intelligence has sent out a note to all Commissioners/Superintendents of Police to gear up their intelligence machinery and deploy adequate security personnel to protect vital installations.
The police were told to prepare for agitations by fishermen organisations along coastal districts and post sufficient strength at public places where trouble was anticipated. Calling for stern action against persons indulging in unlawful activities by taking advantage of the situation, the note said there was a possibility that members of Leftist movements who were taking part in the agitations could indulge in sabotage at important establishments and on railway tracks.
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) on Wednesday demanded the suspension of the police personnel who were present at the scene of the firing in Thoothukudi on May 22. It said the government should take action not merely against the subordinate police and revenue officials but the entire chain of command responsible for overseeing the incident.
PUCL national general secretary V. Suresh condemned the killing of the protesters and said the police resorted to severe and unprovoked lathicharge on the unarmed gathering without giving any prior warning.
“This is said to have provoked a reaction from some sections of the gathering, resulting in stone throwing. Without giving the statutory warning on the possibility of shooting, and violating the Police Standing Orders and Guidelines to handle situations of mob agitations, the police fired into the crowd, aiming to kill. The guidelines that the police should first shoot warning shots in the air, and then only below the knees, were brazenly flouted,” he said.
Pointing to numerous video recordings and eyewitness accounts, Mr. Suresh said the police used professional snipers “standing atop police vehicles to shoot directly at people leading the march, aiming to kill them.” This much was made clear by the fact that most of those killed seemed to have sustained bullet wounds in the top torso or part of the body above the waist, he added.