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Anger brews in Kerala after police descend on protesters

Residents are up in arms against an LPG terminal being established in the area by the public sector Indian Oil Corporation

Gulf News

Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala’s ruling Communist Party of India Marxist government has got itself entangled in controversy after police baton-charged local residents at Puthuvype in Kochi on Sunday, leaving several people seriously injured.

Following the police action, the area observed a hartal (shutdown) on Monday, called for by the Fishermen Coordination Committee.

The residents are up in arms against an LPG terminal being established in the area by the public sector Indian Oil Corporation, fearing that the unit would pose serious threat to their lives.

On Sunday, when work resumed at the site, local residents organised a protest march that was brutally put down by the police force, triggering fresh anger among local people and condemnation from various political leaders.

Protesters including women and children were beaten up by police on Friday, and then again on Sunday when they regrouped for a fresh protest. The cane charge was led from the front by police deputy commissioner Yathish Chandra, sparking calls from various quarters for action against him.

The CPM was put on the defensive by veteran leader V.S. Achuthanandan, who sought action against Chandra, and said “a government should approach a people’s protest with compassion”.

The government was also criticised by minister Mercykutty Amma who said suppression of protests was not the policy of the government.

Opposition leader, Ramesh Chennithala called for an investigation into Sunday’s incident and appropriate action against the police officials involved. “The government should not think it can suppress a protest with guns and batons”, he said.

Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president M.M. Hassan demanded suspension of the deputy police commissioner, Chandra.

Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has called the agitators for talks on June 21, but local residents upset by the police action against them, have decided to continue their strike until the IOC stops work at the LPG terminal.

Authorities say that the LPG storage tank being constructed at Puthuvype will help in transporting LPG through pipes, doing away with the current practice of using dozens of trucks each day which also causes congestion on Kerala’s narrow roads.

However, local residents are unconvinced and they say that a massive storage tank for petroleum gas in their backyard is like a ticking bomb.

Some political observers say that the local protest in Puthuvype could turn costly for the CPM government as was the case with the CPM government in West Bengal over a decade ago.

When the Bengal government used police force to put down the protest against acquiring land in Singur for the Tata Group to set up an automobile plant, the protest fires spread quickly and ended in catapulting Mamata Bannerjee of Trinamool Congress into power.