A farmers' protest against diversion of irrigation water and land acquisition turned ugly on Tuesday, as three people including a woman, were killed when the police opened fire to quell the agitation. The incident occurred around 11 a.m. in Bahur village in Maval taluka near the Pune-Mumbai express highway after a seemingly peaceful protest took a violent turn.

Thousands of farmers had gathered on Tuesday morning to protest against the diversion of irrigation waters from Pavana Dam to the twin industrial township of Pimpri Chinchwad, an issue that the locals had been protesting against since 2008.

According to the Pune Rural Superintendent of Police, Sandeep Karnik, the protesters were asked to vacate the expressway which witnessed a massive traffic jam after their public meeting concluded. “After the meeting got over, the protesters started hurling stones at policemen and damaging police vans. We had decided not to use force but when the farmers got violent, we had no other option but to open fire,” Mr. Karnik said. Protesters burnt tires, and had begun to damage vehicles, when the police decided to use stronger measures.“We had to burst 25 tear gas shells, and fire 25 rounds of rubber bullets,” Mr. Karnik stated. However, according to him, senior officials were seriously injured when the protesters indulged in heavy stone-pelting, which proved to be the tipping point for the police and resulted in violence through the second half of the day. “It was after Police Inspector Maruti Ingavle was hit in the head that we had to open fire from our service revolvers to bring the situation under control,” Mr. Karnik said. “Three senior police officials and more than 20 police constables were hurt,” he stated.

Those who died in the firing have been identified as Kantabai Thakar, Moreshwar Sathe and Shyam Tupe. Another protester Maruti Kiridh was seriously injured, and is admitted to the Intensive Care Unit of Pavana Hospital. Added to that, around 25 protesters were injured and admitted in various hospitals around the region, the police stated.

The protests were led by the Opposition combine of the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party, along with the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS). According to Shankarrao Shelar of the BKS, the police used force unnecessarily. “It was the police who opened fire first, and went into houses and hurt people,” he said. Another demonstrator said it was the police who rounded up around 50 protesters and hit them, and only after that the protesters hit back.

According to the police, the protesters burnt a police van, stoned two buses and damaged 10 other vehicles.

Issue raging for 3 years

The issue of the diversion of the after from Pavana dam has been in the centre of debates over the last three years. The civic body wants to lay a closed pipeline through farmers' fields from the dam to reach Pimpri-Chinchwad, which will also include acquiring the farmers' land. Both these issues have met with strong resistance from the farmers, as they feel that the water for farming and drinking will be reduced, and the project will take their lands from them.