MUMBAI: Seventeen farmers and 12 policemen were injured on Thursday when a farmers’ agitation to save their land took a violent turn near a British-era airstrip in neighbouring Thane district, with the police firing pellet guns to disperse a mob. The farmers from villages in the Nevali-Bhal-Dawalpada area in Ambarnath taluka in Thane district blocked the Kalyan-Haji Malang Gad road in an attempt to halt the work to construct a boundary wall and attacked the police and set their vehicles on fire.
“The mob directly attacked the police. It appears as though the whole thing was planned. We are taking tough action against it. We are in a process of charging them with attempt to murder,” Thane commissioner of police Parambir Singh said. “The agitators set ablaze three police vehicles and caused heavy damage to two others. They also pelted stones injuring 12 policemen, including DCP Sunil Patil. Police fired four rounds from pellet guns to disperse the mob. This injured 17 agitators,” he added.
“Due to heavy police deployment, the villagers are under pressure. Most of us have not returned to our villages. It’s utter injustice to level charges of attempt to murder against us,” Shyam Patil, secretary of the farmers’ body Shri Malang gad Parisar Jamin Bachav Andolan Samiti in the vicinity of Nevali naval base, told the New Indian Express. Two of the villagers who were injured by the pellet guns are battling for their life, he said.
The farmers’ body had organised the agitation. “All our agitations have been peaceful so far. But, when we wanted to stop the construction of the compound wall today, police resorted to lathi-charge which made the mob turn violent,” Patil said.
Over 1,600 acres of land under dispute was originally acqui red by the government through an order passed by the then Thane collector in February 1943, under the Defence of India Rules to construct an airstrip, which was used by the Royal Air Force during World War II. According to the villagers, they were given the land back and have been undertaking farming in it for the last 75 years. However, the land records show that the land belongs to the Ministry of Defence. The villagers had recently filed several petitions challenging the validity of the government order of 1943.
The issue has been simmering for the past decade when the proposal to transform the airstrip into an airport came up.