RECORDS WERE tweaked to change the location where police fired on protesters, a deputy tahsildar from a different area was made to sign the firing order after the incident because the local official had gone missing, and an accountant who had stepped out of office to return home was shot dead, allegedly by policemen patrolling on mortorbikes. These are some of the details accessed by The Indian Express from FIRs, witness testimonies and court affidavits on the police firing in Tuticorin two weeks ago that led to the deaths of 13 persons amid protests demanding closure of the Sterlite copper plant.
On May 28, seven days after the police firing, the Tamil Nadu government shut down the plant. On Friday, the state government transferred two deputy tahsildars deputed in the area who had signed orders for the police to open fire.
The most chilling claim on the police firing comes from D George, a 52-year-old volunteer in a Christian prayer group, who said he was among those who carried the body of Antony Selvaraj, an accountant with a shipping company, and placed it inside an ambulance on Palayamkottai road — two kilometres away from where police claim he was killed.
Selvaraj’s employer, T M Hartnann, cited other witness accounts to claim that his employee was killed outside his office near the local branch of Tamil Nadu Mercantile Bank (TMB) and opposite British Bakery on Palayamkottai road.
According to a status report on the incident submitted in Madras High Court by DGP T K Rajendran, Selvaraj was among nine killed as police fired at protesters to prevent them from storming the Collectorate Complex on May 22.
Speaking to The Indian Express, George said: “I was part of the group that carried Selvaraj’s body into an ambulance on Palayamkottai road, about 2 km away from the Collectorate Complex. He was bleeding heavily. I don’t know where the injury was but I helped others carry the body into the vehicle,” George said. Hartnann, who runs St Judes Freight Pvt Ltd, said Selvaraj was at work in the first-floor office till 1 pm that day. “Before leaving, he went to meet my father who lives downstairs to invite him for his daughter’s puberty ceremony scheduled on May 28. He handed over the invitation card and stepped out,” he said.
“As there was heavy police presence and tension, he stayed back for a moment talking to employees of the Tamil Nadu Mercantile Bank who stood outside their office nearby. While standing there, he also called his wife to tell her about the problems in the city and told her that he would be there to pick her up in five minutes. He had just started his motorbike moved a few metres ahead towards the Teachers Colony to pick his wife, when he was shot,” claimed Hartnann.
Selvaraj’s funeral was conducted Thursday. According to Hartnann, Selvaraj’s wife was employed as an office assistant at a private school. The couple had a 12-year-old daughter and a 17-year-old son. The staff of TMB declined to comment but Hartnann cited “others who witnessed the final moments of Selvaraj” and said that “he was shot by a team of policemen who came in many two-wheelers after 1 pm”.
“I was not there. But everyone on the road who witnessed the scene said it was an inspector who led the police team on motor bikes. The others came behind him and were shooting randomly at people,” Hartnann claimed.
The other significant detail to emerge from official records is that on May 21, a day before the police firing, a government circular signed by a divisional magistrate appointed Deputy Tahsildar Sekhar in charge of areas surrounding Fatima Nagar, Therespuram, Puthutheru, Lions’ Town and Matha Church, all about 12 km from the Collectorate complex.
But an FIR filed on May 22 at SICOT police station on the killing of protesters shows it was Sekhar who signed the order — as per mandatory norms — for police firing at the Collectorate complex.
Official sources told The Indian Express that Sekhar “was made to sign the firing order after Rajkumar Thangaseelan, a Special Tahsildar, who was originally deployed at the Collectorate complex, refused to sign it”.
Senthur Raja, a tahsildar who heads the Tamil Nadu Revenue Officials Association, claimed that Thangaseelan refused to sign the order and “disappeared”. “He switched off his phone and disappeared for two days after he was approached by police to sign the order. After he refused, they got another tahsildar to sign the order. We have met District Collector Sandeep Nanduri, who has promised that he will protect officers like us as we come under his charge. He said we need not to go by directions from police in terms of signing any more FIRs,” said Raja.
Records also show that M Kannan, another tahsildar posted near the state pollution control board in Tuticorin town, signed the orders for police to fire at protesters in Therespuram, 14 km away, which was under Sekhar’s charge. When contacted by The Indian Express, Nanduri said the one-man commission probing the incident will look into these aspects. “It will be inappropriate for me to comment on this since the probe is on,” said Nanduri.
Deputy Tahsildars Sekhar and Kannan, who were transferred Friday, and Thangaseelan, were not available for comment. DGP Rajendran did not respond to repeated requests from The Indian Express for comment. Speaking to The Indian Express, Selvaraj’s brother Rajesh expressed the fear that details in the FIR “might have changed later to match the police version”. “We do not know how to fight such lies. People who were known to him and witnessed the incident are afraid to speak out. His bike was there at the spot where he was shot. He was killed minutes after he called his wife to tell her that he was coming to pick her from the school,” claimed Rajesh.