At least 12 policemen and 12 protesters were injured and three police vehicles set ablaze as farmers' opposition to the takeover of land for a new domestic airport turned violent in Maharashtra on Thursday, police said.Taking serious note of the violence, Minister of State for Defence has convened a meeting on June 29 in New Delhi to hammer out a solution, Kalyan Lok Sabha MP Shrikant Shinde said.Shinde added he planned to submit a report to the Defence Ministry at the earliest.Thane Police Commissioner Parambir Singh told the media that at least 12 policemen were injured in stone-pelting by the protesters in Nevali village near Kalyan here.When the police retaliated with pellet guns, at least a dozen protesters sustained injuries.All the injured were rushed to hospitals nearby. Eight policemen and four protestors have been admitted for treatment.Singh added that the police would book the protesters on various charges, including attempt to murder for the attacks on policemen and damage to public properties.
He said additional forces had been rushed to the scene of the rioting and the situation "is under control".Than's Guardian Minister Eknath Shinde, who rushed to the spot, said the farmers' opposition to acquisition of an old British-era airstrip and land surrounding it had been pending for 75 years."We shall initiate discussions with the Defence Ministry to resolve the issue at the earliest," he said while visiting a hospital where the injured were undergoing treatment.Farmers from 17 surrounding villages are opposing the acquisition of the abandoned airstrip for constructing a new airport at Nevali, around 40 km north-east of Mumbai.Several hundreds of farmers blocked traffic on the Ambernath-Dombivali Road and Kalyan-Haji Malang Road on Thursday morning, burnt tyres, pelted stones and even torched a police van and a jeep.Additional forces were rushed from neighbouring towns.Meanwhile, a Defence Ministry spokesperson said the land was owned by the Ministry of Defence.
"The Navy is constructing a peripheral boundary wall to protect and safeguard the defence land from further encroachments."The bone of contention is a 1,600-acre plot with an airstrip, the land for which was acquired from the neighbouring villages during the British regime in the 1930s and later allowed to languish.Over the years, due to neglect, local land mafia indulged in encroachments in different areas after which the Defence Ministry started constructing a boundary wall to prevent further illegal occupation of its property.Last year, the Maharashtra government announced plans to redevelop the Nevali site as another domestic airport to ease congestion in Mumbai Airport and also cater to the expected air traffic growth under the new civil aviation policy.Around a decade ago, the government was keen to consider Nevali as the site for the new international airport but it was refused on grounds of its proximity to the high-security Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC).Accordingly, the new international airport costing over Rs 44,000 crore has been shifted to Panvel, in adjoining Raigad district, which is likely to be operational by 2019.Nevali is among 30 abandoned airports and around 400 airstrips which were built during the British era as part of the Royal Air Force's preparations for World War II.Under the centre's regional air connectivity scheme, Maharashtra plans to develop 10 dysfunctional airports and airstrips at Amravati, Gondiya, Kolhapur, Jalgaon, Nanded, Nashik, Sindhudurg, Shirdi, Solapur and Ratnagiri.