Vasai: Residents of Vasai took to the streets once again on Wednesday to protest against the arbitrary practices of the village panchayat and development authorities in imposing development fees without providing any prior information.

The agitation, led by the Shiv Sena in collaboration with the local residents, resurfaced last month in response to the arbitrary actions and opaque dealings of the Tarakhad Village Panchayat. The panchayat, under the pretext of the Gram Panchayat Act and regulations, has initiated development projects without following due process. This has led to widespread dissatisfaction among the local landowners, as the assessment of property taxes is being done without proper documentation and sometimes in the names of unrelated individuals.

The significant increase in property taxes has created a burden that many local landowners find difficult to bear. The forcible imposition of development fees on residents has resulted in numerous grievances, including the loss of property rights and the lack of basic amenities in the village. Builders, taking advantage of the absence of any regulatory oversight, have also contributed to the loss of the village’s identity by constructing towers without proper authorization, leading to the destruction of the traditional village structure.

The discontent among the villagers reached its peak on October 26, prompting them to launch a peaceful protest against these unjust practices.

To voice their concerns, representatives from the protest met with officials, including Sangeeta Bhange, a development officer, Sunitha Lemos, the deputy sarpanch, and Jagruti Wade, a village servant, at the protest venue. The issues discussed included the refusal to provide information to landowners, the arbitrary assessment of property taxes, and the lack of response to official letters. The protest aimed to draw attention to the adverse impact of these practices on the village and its residents.

Despite assurances from the local authorities that the protest would prompt a review of the situation and lead to corrective measures, the reality was different. The development officer and other officials made minimal efforts to engage with the protesters, and the promises of addressing grievances remained unfulfilled.

Milind Khanolkar, the president of the Vasai Campaign against Unjust Practices, led the protest, emphasizing the need to rectify the injustices faced by the Chaufekar family, who have been denied any opportunity to present their case or have their assessment revised. The leaders expressed their disappointment with the lack of cooperation from the development officers and highlighted the urgency of resolving the longstanding issues.

Despite two attempts to engage with the authorities, including meetings with assistant development officers and office assistants, the Chaufekar family found no resolution to their concerns. The lack of response from the officials further fueled the frustration among the protesters, leading to a decision to intensify the protest.

However, on Wednesday night, the protest faced a setback when the police inspector Ranjeet Andhale announced the suspension of the assessment process at the protest site. The unexpected halt in the protest activities left the residents disheartened, as they were anticipating a resolution to their grievances.

Nevertheless, the protest resumed on Thursday morning, with the residents expressing their determination to continue until their concerns are adequately addressed. The unexpected suspension of the protest the previous night only strengthened their resolve to fight for their rights and against the unjust practices of the local authorities.

In the ongoing struggle for justice, the residents of Vasai continue to demand transparency, fairness, and a reconsideration of the development fees imposed by the village panchayat. The future of the protest remains uncertain, but the determination of the residents to protect their rights and their village’s identity remains unwavering.