The farmers protesting construction of a boundary wall around a plot of defence land in the district set vehicles on fire and clashed with police, leaving 22 persons, including 12 policemen, injured.
The aggrieved farmers had earlier this month approached the Bombay High Court challenging the acquisition of over 1,600 acre land by the Ministry of Defence at Nevali for an airstrip requisitioned during the World War II.
According to the farmers, 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. Farmers have challenged the validity of the requisition order.
The protests erupted after the Navy began constructing a peripheral wall to protect the around 1600 acre of the defence land from further encroachment.
The agitated farmers also blocked a busy road in the area by throwing burning tyres on it, the police said.
“Around 400 acre land has been encroached. The Navy has sought the state governments help to remove these encroachments and help us complete the perimeter wall building work,” an official said.
Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre told that a meeting has been convened on the issue in New Delhi on June 29.
Thane’s guardian minister Eknath Shinde, who rushed to the spot, said that the farmers’ opposition to acquisition of an old British-era airstrip and land surrounding it has been pending since long.
“We shall initiate discussions with the defence ministry to resolve the issue at the earliest,” he told the media.
Thane Police Commissioner Parambir Singh said a DCP was among the 12 policemen injured during the violent protests.
“We are registering cases, including one of attempt to murder, against the protesters,” he added.
A defence service spokesperson said the land is owned by the Ministry of Defence and the state government land records certify the same.
“The 7/12 (land title) 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 Defence land from further encroachment,” he said.
“The Maharashtra government is fully aware of the subject case and is providing the police protection and support from district administration and revenue authorities,” the spokesperson said.
The protest turned violent as farmers started agitating simultaneously at several places near Nevali, around 50 km from Mumbai.
Angry protesters also clashed with police and pelted stones, police said. The police personnel fired plastic bullets at the protesters to disperse them, the police said.
The protesters blocked the Kalyan-Haji Malang road by throwing burning tyres and wooden blocks on it. They also torched a police van, three trucks, two bikes and a tempo in the area, police said.
Thane district guardian minister Eknath Shinde said he had spoken to Bhamre on the issue. “A solution should be found keeping in mind the national interest,” he stated.