Farmer near Panvel, whose land was taken away by the panchayat, fined over Rs 7,000, and warned his family will be ostracised if he does not fall in line with their diktats
Akhap-style village panchayat in Panvel has threatened to ostracise a 38-year-old man and his family because he dared file an RTI application, seeking details of forest land in his village and how much was encroached upon.Laxman Thakur, a farmer and freelance photographer, resides at Tara village, 17 km from Panvel, off Mumbai Goa Highway. Tara, in Panvel taluka, falls under jurisdiction of New Panvel police station.

Recently, a man from a nearby village was ostracised for marrying outside his caste. Another village has an informal prohibition order. The nearby areas have seen a steady rise in number of plush residential and commercial constructions, but Tara still has its own law and order system, wherein people are punished and ostracised if they don’t obey panchayat orders.

Laxman and his family have faced a similar ordeal since July 2014, when a 5,000 sq ft plot they’ve grown vegetables on for 50 years was taken away by the panchayat, stating it was committee land and belonged to the forest department.

In December, Laxman filed an RTI, seeking details of the village forest land. Some panchas learnt of this, and asked him to withdraw the application as it was a committee order.Laxman, however, did not. They then called him for meetings, but he did not attend.

Subsequently, on April 5, Laxman was summoned for a meeting at a temple. “There, the panchas, Santosh Krishna Patil, Vidyadhar Joshi, Sunil Mhatre, Ghanshyam Joshi and Prakash Mhatre, along with villagers including Deepak Patil and Roshan Patil shouted at me,“ Laxman told Mumbai Mirror on Wednesday.

“They claimed that by filing an RTI I had gone against the panchayat. One of the panchas said no such thing happened since 1890, and I would be punished,“ said Laxman.

He added, “They levied a penalty of Rs 5,001 for not withdrawing the RTI application, and Rs 2,501 for not attending their earlier meetings.When I said this was unfair, one of them picked up a brick and threatened to smash my head. They then threatened that the entire village would ostracise my family. I was scared and also feared for the wellbeing of my parents, my wife and daughter who be alone at home while I was away at work.“

On April 14, Laxman filed a complaint with the assistant commissioner of police, Panvel division, saying that he and his family lived in fear of the panchas and the villagers. ACP Sheshrao Suryawanshi asked the Sr PI of Taluka police station to look into the matter. Primarily police protection was provided to the family on Wednesday, and the panchas along with Laxman were summoned to the police station.

“We recorded statements of the panchas as well as Laxman,“ said ACP Suryawanshi. “We will investigate and take action accordingly.“

Speaking to Mirror, one pancha who did not want to be named, said, “The land was taken away as it belonged to the committee. The amount sought from Laxman was not a penalty, but for a small lunch as he did not attended meetings.

“In our village, we don’t allow people to buy or consume alcohol. If anyone does, we make them pay for a lunch party as punishment. There’s nothing such as ostracising someone from society.“

Locals, however, said that few years ago a family in the village was ostracised by the panchayat. While they did not provide details, they said the order still stands.

Meanwhile, the police have also asked the tehsildar’s office to look into the matter, as such issues are usually handled by the revenue department of the district collector.