Over 5,000 residents from several unauthorised colonies of Rahul Vihar, Budh Vihar and Chijarsi clashed with police and resorted to large-scale violence on NH-24 in Ghaziabad on Saturday.
Over 24 vehicles were damaged, including UP Roadways buses, private buses, trucks, cars and others after they were set on fire by the unruly mob which blocked NH-24 for over six hours, police said.
As a result, thousands of commuters faced a tough time commuting to Ghaziabad, Noida and Delhi, as the police and administration battled the mob for hours. Hundreds of vehicles created a 10-km long pile-up.
“I had to travel an additional 15km through Dadri to catch my flight to Mumbai. I reached in the nick of time,” said Pankaj Maheshwari travelling on NH-24 from Moradabad.
Later, the mob resorted to violence as they feared their colonies near Hindon river would be demolished as Irrigation Construction Division (ICD) officials were marking a ‘flood-zone’ of 400 metres on both sides of the river.
“The fertile land along the river was being marked but some land mafia and local newspaper reports had instigated the residents. A day back, an unauthorised cemetery was also due for demolition near Chijarsi. All these activities led people to believe that their colonies would be demolished,” Ghaziabad district magistrate R Ramesh Kumar said.
As the pile up and the police concentration increased, the mob resorted to firing, pelted stones and set fire public and government vehicles.
Schoolchildren and women were the worst sufferers.
“My children came back at 5 pm from their Vijaynagar school. My wife was stuck in Vaishali and I covered the entire NH24 walking to reach and drive her back home via another route. It was terrifying,” said Chandrakesh Kushwaha, a resident of Rahul Vihar.
Unable to tackle the rioters and clear the jam, police enforcements from all Ghaziabad and Noida police stations, three companies of the Provincial Armed Constabulary and fire-engines from both districts were pressed into service.
“Around 12 firearm shots were reported from the residents, who are believed to be instigated by the land mafia. Many policemen and officials were injured. Six locals also suffered injuries. Only tear gas shells was lobbed to disperse the crowd and the police did not fire,” SSP Akhil Kumar said. There were no casualties, he added.
However locals claimed one Janib-uddin was injured by police firing and was referred to GTB hospital at Delhi.
The residents claimed ownership of the land and said their properties were registered in their names.
Administration officials said the land mafia had built permanent residential structures along the river banks. But the officials remained tight-lipped as to how the encroachments were allowed for over 10 years.
“The land does not belong to the Irrigation Department. Our work is to alert the residents by marking the ‘flood-zone’ areas. No demolitions were intended,” said,” said Gyas Alam, executive engineer ICD Ghaziabad.
Traffic resumed by 6pm.
“We will conduct a meeting with the residents to normalise the situation which is still tense. Proper action would be taken against the land mafia and media reports which instigated violence,” Kumar added.