About a hundred people from both sides received injuries in the protests, though not serious. By the evening, the situation had been brought under control with thousands of police personnel enforcing an uneasy calm.
Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde blamed “foreign NGOs” for the violence. “Foreign NGOs are supporting the movement. We are aware about the NGOs which are behind it,” he told reporters, adding that the government was very clear about producing nuclear energy as it was cheap and clean.
In February, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had accused some US-based NGOs of putting difficulties in the launch of the Koodankulam plant.
Appealing for peace, Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa asked the people not to fall prey to anti-nuclear lobbyists and said the project was safe.
According to local police sources, fisherman G Anthonysamy, 48, was killed when police opened fire at a group of enraged protesters allegedly trying to attack a police station at Kulasekarapattinam. The mob set ablaze a police check-post and post office and was moving towards the station when the personnel opened fire.
A few hours earlier, the fishermen, who declared solidarity with their counterparts in Koodankulam, had taken four police officials including two women personnel as hostages. They were later released.
Led by the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), the villagers in the neighbourhood who are opposed to setting up of the plant had decided to change tact from observing a protest fast at Idinthakarai village to laying siege to the plant at a recent meeting. On Sunday, as per the new plan, thousands of villagers including women and children had started marching towards the plant. Stopped by the police, they camped on the seashore less than a kilometre from the plant site.
On Monday, they again tried to move closer to the plant, turning down police requests to stop. Thirunelveli district collector R Selvaraj, IGP (south zone) Rajesh Das and Superintendent of Police Vijayendra S Bidari were among those who held talks with the protesters.
Police sources said the crackdown began after a group of people mobbed IG Das and attacked his gunman, who suffered injuries. While some of the protesters dispersed — with many of them jumping into the sea — a few retaliated with stones, logs and shoes. PMANE convenor S P Udayakumar, M Pushparayan and others were taken away by fishermen to ensure that they weren’t arrested.
Soon the unrest spread to neighbouring Thoothukudi district, leading to the death of Anthonysamy in firing.
Officials claimed the violence may have been planned as protest fasts and court cases have failed to stop the commissioning of the Rs 17,000-crore plant that is being set up in association with Russia.
Protesters, however, accused that they had been pushed into violence by police action. In the last one year of protests, there had not been one incident of violence, they said. Udayakumar appealed to the villagers to remain calm to ensure that the movement against nuclear energy was not discredited.
A 48-hour hunger strike has been called at Idinthakarai against the police action and to seek the closure of the plant.
with PTI in Delhi