MUMBAI Protest against proposed airport turns violent near Kalyan, several policemen injured

Farmers protest against land acquisition for Newali airport, near Kalyan on June 22, 2017. Photo: Special Arrangement

Residents of Newali, mostly farmers, are opposed to a the plan to turn a British era airbase into an international airport.

The issue of ownership of the land in Kalyan where a now defunct World War II era airbase stands came to a head on Thursday after local farmers took to the streets, blocking traffic on the Dombivli-Badlapur Road, setting vehicles on fire and throwing stones at policemen, leaving several injured.

According to the Thane police, the locals spilled out on the streets early on Thursday morning with placards in their hands, demanding that the land be turned over to them.

Done by the British

Officials said the land was taken over from the farmers during the British Raj, when the Royal Air Force constructed an airbase near the Haji Malang Fort.

The farmers have been demanding the land back, but it was handed over to the defence department after Independence.

“A few members of the mob turned aggressive and started blocking traffic. When we tried to move them off the streets, they resisted and a clash ensued. The mob started throwing stones at us and we had to act, which worsened the situation,” said an officer with the Thane police.

The policemen at the spot immediately sent out a wireless alert and additional reinforcements, including Quick Response Teams and Riot Control Police, were rushed to the spot, while senior officers, including Thane Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh and Joint Commissioner of Police Madhukar Pandey, too, arrived to handle the situation.

The police had to fire pellet guns and the mob was dispersed around an hour after the violence began, by which time several policemen were left injured.

The Assistant Commissioner of Police, Ulhasnagar division, and the Senior Police Inspector, Hill Line police station, along with three officers and four constables, sustained injuries, said Thane Police spokesperson Inspector Sukhada Narkar.

A police vehicle burns during a protest by farmers on Kalyan-Badlapur road on June 22, 2017. Photo: Special Arrangement

The protesters also set two police vehicles and a private vehicle on fire, said Mr. Narkar, adding that the situation was brought back to normal by Thursday afternoon.

Police officials said the protesters were furious when the Defence department started construction of a boundary wall around the air base to protect it from encroachment and defacement. In 2016, the government had announced that it was considering an airport on the plot to take some of the load off the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.

“The land in reference is owned by the Ministry of Defence and the Indian Navy and the State government land records certify the same. The 7/12 extracts are held with Defence Estate Officer, Mumbai. ,” a defence spokesperson said

Meanwhile, Rahul Sinha, Chief Public Relations Officer (Defence) said that the 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 land was Acquired by Ministry of Defence. The Navy is constructing a peripheral boundary wall to protect and safeguard Defence land from further encroachment,” he said in a statement.

“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 added.

The aggrieved farmers had earlier this month approached the Bombay High Court with a bunch of petitions challenging acquisition of over 1,600 acre land by the Ministry of Defence for an airport requisitioned during World War II.

According to the petitions, the land was requisitioned by the government through an order passed by the then Thane collector in February 1943, under the Defence of India Rules.

The petitions have challenged the validity of the requisition order.

Later, the Thane Police Commissioner spoke about the situation on the ground. “Some protesters turned violent and 12 policemen were injured. We are registering a case of attempt to murder against protesters. Some villagers attacked a police team & DCP, who then used pellet gun on them. Four villagers have been injured and are being treated. The situation is normal now,” he said.