At least 13 people were killed and many injured in the police firing on people protesting against the Sterlite copper plant on May 22, 2018.
In a counter-affidavit filed in response to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Madurai-based human rights organisation People's Watch Executive Director Henri Tiphagne, the state government told a bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice T.S. Sivagnanam that the probe was stalled for two periods -- in April 2020 and June 2021 -- due to the first and second waves of the pandemic.
"The CoI is probing the police personnel since July 2021," it said.
The Commission of Inquiry had to complete the probe into the incident within three months of its constitution on May 23, 2018, but its tenure was extended periodically as it required examination of several individuals.
The government, in the counter-affidavit, said that the Commission visited the place of the incident and received affidavits from police, Sterlite Copper smelting staff , revenue officials, journalists, and ambulance staff as also those working in the Collectorate to get their version on the incident.
It said that the Commission requested the Thootukudi Collector to share footage, of May 15 to May 22, from the CCTV cameras installed inside the Collectorate, but officials had informed it that that Crime Branch, CID, has taken procession of the hard drive.
The CB-CID informed the CoI that the hard drive was given to the CBI that conducted further investigation and the CBI informed that the footage was sent to the Centre for Advanced Computing, Thiruvananthapuram.
The government also told the high court that it was after much persuasion that the hard drive was received from a Madurai first class judicial magistrate court in February 2021. The Commission, according to the government testimony, has summoned 1,153 witnesses and examined 718 of them.
In the interim report submitted on May 14, 2021, the Commission of Inquiry had recommended withdrawal of criminal cases against protestors and payment of Rs 1.5 lakh as compensation to those who were arrested during the protest marches. The CoI also recommended issuing No Objection Certificates (NOC) to the arrested so that they could pursue higher education.
The state government has ordered withdrawal of criminal cases against the protestors on the basis of the interim order of the CoI and decided to pay Rs 1 lakh as compensation to the 93 protestors who were arrested during the agitation against the Sterlite plant.
The Thoothukudi Collector has, in his compliance report, informed the government that Rs 1 lakh was paid as compensation to 84 persons and the whereabouts of the remaining persons was unknown.