29 hurt as farmers, cops clash over airbase plan near Mumbai
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29 hurt as farmers, cops clash over airbase plan near Mumbai

Farmers were protesting against a proposed defence airport at Nevali, about 45 km northeast of Mumbai.

mumbai Updated: Jun 23, 2017 00:00 IST
Sajana Nambiar and Arvind Walmiki
Sajana Nambiar and Arvind Walmiki
Hindustan Times, Kalyan
Farmers' protest,Thane,Nevali
Farmers set ablaze a police van in Nevali.(HT Photo/Rishikesh Chaudhary)

Hundreds of angry farmers, protesting against a proposed defence airport on the outskirts of the city, held up traffic, clashed with police and burned down four police vehicles on Thursday. Around 15 policemen, 12 protestors and two media persons were injured.

Two of the protestors, who were severely injured, were shifted to Thane. Two police stations (Manpada police station and Hill line police station) have lodged six cases against more than 500 villagers for attempt to murder, assaulting police on duty, riot sections and other relevant sections of the IPC.

Local resentment had been building against plans to turn an abandoned World War II airbase into a defence airport at Nevali, about 45km northeast of Mumbai. But Thursday’s protests took an unexpected turn after farmers whose land had been acquired for the project attacked police personnel.

Defence officials released a statement. “The land in reference is owned by ministry of defence/ Indian Navy and the state government land records certify the same,” commander Rahul Sinha, chief public relations officer (defence), said in a statement.

“The 7/12 extracts are held with Defence Estate Officer, Mumbai. The land was acquired by the ministry of defence. The navy is constructing a peripheral boundary wall to protect and safeguard defence land from further encroachment. The Maharashtra state government is fully aware of the subject case and is providing police protection and support from state/ district administration and revenue authorities,” he said.

The protest began on Thursday morning against the India Navy’s move to construct a wall in Nevali and soon turned violent.

Around 8am, stick-wielding protesters blocked a busy local road at the Nevali naka with burning tyres and setting seven vehicles on fire, including four police vans. They clashed with police when they tried to disperse the crowd. Police had to use pellet guns to control the mob.

Senior police officials from Thane, who rushed to the spot, requested additional police force for backup. Around 375 policemen, including 32 officers, two State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) platoon containing 30 jawans were deployed at the spot.

“The protest was supposed to be a silent one. Suddenly they turned violent and started attacking policemen by pelting them with stones and setting vehicles on fire,” said Param Bir Singh, Thane police commissioner.

Union minister of state for defence Subhash Bhamre said the farmers should not have resorted to violence.

Bhamre, who was on tour in Dhule district, immediately left for Delhi and called for a meeting on June 27 to discuss the issue. Senior defence officials, two MPs from Thane, Shrikant Shinde, Kapil Patil, and Thane district guardian minister Eknath Shinde are also invited for the meet.

Local MLA Ganpat Gaikwad, however, said he will meet chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. “The land belongs to the farmers and should be given back to them,” Gaikwad told reporters.

Farmland acquisition for industrial and infrastructure projects has long been a lightning rod for protests in India, with farmers often accusing authorities of forcibly taking away land or acquiring it cheaply.

Farmers clashed with police when they tried to disperse the crowd. (HT Photo/Rishikesh Chaudhary)

This year, anger among farmers has also grown across several states, including Maharashtra, over dwindling crop income because of a supply glut and a cash crunch triggered by the government’s demonetisation move last November. Several states have announced financial bailouts to assuage farm distress. The British-era airstrip at Nevali is now defunct. The government wants to develop it as a defence airport. Many locals whose land was taken now want it back.

The local farmers claimed their land was taken for the construction of the runway of the airbase during British time and were not returned. “I have been fighting for farmers for the past several years and the government is yet to make a final decision about the land. Their land was given on a temporary basis for airbase during British, however, the Indian government took it over. The land was supposed to be returned to the farmers. Without considering our demands, they have started building a compound wall over here,” said Tulsiram Mhatre, a farmer. In January this year, hundreds of farmers thronged the airbase and destroyed the tents put up by the authority.

First Published: Jun 22, 2017 11:35 IST