At least 21 people, including two policemen, were killed in clashes between police and around 3,000 encroachers at a park in Mathura in Uttar Pradesh on Thursday. Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has ordered a probe into the incident.

The two policemen killed in Thursday’s clashes were Superintendent of Police or SP (City) Mukul Dwivedi and Station House Officer or SHO, Farah police station Santosh Kumar, who was shot in the head.

The encroachers had occupied the 260-acre park at Jawahar Bagh in Mathura, nearly 150 kilometres from Delhi, for more than two years. The police had failed to evict them earlier despite an order from a court.

The clashes happened yesterday when a police team went to the park to inspect the site. According to Javed Ahmed, chief of the Uttar Pradesh police, the encroachers – members of a semi-religious sect who called themselves “Satyagrahis” – threw stones and the police team and also opened fire at them.

“There was unprovoked firing from the members of an offshoot of the Jai Gurudev sect. Heavily armed men from the other side fired at the police,” he said and added that to control the crowd, the police resorted to lathicharge and tear gas shells and finally opened fire.

According to District magistrate Rajesh Kumar, the encroachers used hand grenades and opened fire from automatic weapons after taking position at tree tops. He also said several huts in the park caught fire. Sources in the police say a gas cylinder explosions and a fire during the clashes could have caused the civilian deaths.

There is heavy police presence in Mathura. Around 250 people have been detained by the police.

Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has directed the Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) to rush to the spot and has announced an ex-gratia of Rs. 20 lakh to the family of the deceased policemen.