Indian police charge 30 anti-Vedanta protesters over deadly 2018 demonstration

Vedanta has denied any breach of environmental laws. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

NEW DELHI (REUTERS) - Indian federal police on Friday (May 20) charged 30 people with rioting and other offences after an environmental protest at Vedanta Ltd's copper mine in 2018 turned deadly, with police shooting dead 12 protesters.

The incident, the deadliest environmental protest in India in a decade, was condemned by a working group of United Nations' human rights experts for the "excessive and disproportionate use of lethal force by police". Six of the protesters who were killed were shot from behind.

No policeman or government official who oversaw the firing was charged, the chargesheet reviewed by Reuters showed. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said police had "little choice other than resorting to firing", as protesters outnumbered police.

Witnesses had said after the incident that police opened fire without warning in violation of the police manual, prompting demands from political parties in Tamil Nadu that police officers be held accountable.

"The government of Tamil Nadu has already been requested to take appropriate action against those whose performance of duty was not found in commensuration with the position they held," the chargesheet read.

The CBI, which had also charged 71 protesters over the last year, did not respond to a request seeking additional comment.

Indian police rules allow the use of live ammunition to quell civil unrest, but stipulate the response should be proportionate and officers should not shoot to kill.

The CBI has charged the 30 protesters on 17 counts including rioting, obstructing public service, causing voluntary hurt and damage to public property. These charges carry a maximum penalty of up to seven years in prison.

"Only a handful of rioters whose identity could be established beyond doubt were identified and chargesheeted," the CBI said.

The Tamil Nadu state government ordered the permanent closure of the Vedanta copper smelter a week after the shooting.

Vedanta has denied any breach of environmental laws.

In addition to the federal police, the shootings are also being investigated by a court-mandated commission. The commission is yet to submit its final report.

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