NEARLY 12 police personnel, five of them women, and 13 villagers sustained injuries after residents of seven villages in Kalyan attacked policemen and torched their vehicles, bringing traffic to a standstill on the Kalyan-Haji Malang road Thursday morning. Among the injured, one villager who sustained a pellet injury to his head and an assistant police commissioner are recuperating in hospital.
The villagers were protesting after being told to vacate over 1,600 acres of land belonging to the Navy. For the last four months, said a naval spokesperson, the Navy had been building fencing walls around the area to prevent further encroachment of the land.
According to the police, residents of seven villages in Kalyan had approached the local Hill Line police station Wednesday for permission to conduct a silent protest at Nevali against “their land bring taken over by the Navy”.
On Thursday morning, a staff of around 40 policemen headed by an assistant commissioner of police had been present at the Nevali junction since 8 am in anticipation of the protest. The fact that there was a police conference on Thursday meant that several policemen had to report to the Thane police head office, leading to fewer men on the spot, said an officer.
Additional Commissioner of Police Pratap Dighavkar said, “Villagers, mainly from Khoni, Khol, Nevali, Bhal and Dawalpada, all within a radius of 2 km, gathered at five spots for the protests.” “They were armed with stones and wooden batons and started attacking police vehicles. The crowd comprised men, women and children. It all seemed planned as there was no immediate provocation,” Dighavkar added.
The crowd was also carrying tyres that they burnt at several places to avoid police back-up vehicles from reaching the spot. They also torched five police vehicles and damaged two others. Dighavkar said, “Initially, the police resorted to lathicharge. When things went out of hands, four rounds were fired from pellet guns.”
“Eventually, the Thane police with help from the Riot Control Police and paramilitary forces, brought the situation under control around 11 am. By 2 pm, the roads were open to traffic and things were back to normal.”
The Thane police later registered six FIRs against unidentified persons on charges ranging from attempt to murder to obstructing a public servant from performing his duty. An officer said the police were waiting for things to cool down after which arrests were likely to be made.
Navy PRO Commander Rahul Sinha said in a statement, “Land in reference is owned by Ministry of Defence/ Indian Navy and the State Govt land records certify the same. The 7/12 extracts are held with Defence Estate Officer, Mumbai.”
The statement continued: “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 Govt is fully aware of the subject case and is providing police protection and support from state/ district administration and revenue authorities.”
Nevali, the epicentre of the attack, is located around 50 km north of Mumbai. It was requisitioned as an airport during World War II by the British.
Raj Bhoir, a resident of Nevali, said, “Even though we have approached the Bombay High Court and the matter is sub judice, the Navy is building a boundary wall. The police however do not allow villagers to enter the field. Where will people earn their livelihood from?”
Another villager said, “We have been living here for generations. Now, they suddenly tell us this is not our land. Where will we go then? All our protests were falling on deaf ears, hence something had to be done to attract attention.”
Later, Thane Guardian minister Eknath Shinde reached the spot and requested them to be peaceful and assured them of addressing their concerns.
Senior inspector Mohan Waghmare, who was injured in the attack, said, “Normally, we have very friendly relations with the villagers. Today morning, however, they clearly told me: ‘we are not going to listen to you today’. I knew they had already made up their mind to attack us.” Another officer added: “It was clear, the target was police.”