Stop bulldozing now!

In a brief statement issued yesterday evening on her behalf by advertising agency, Ross Advertising, the Prime Minister (PM) said while she understood the urgent need to deliver housing to citizens, there must be equal consideration to the longstanding tenure of practice conducted by farmers in certain areas.

The PM, who is currently on a three-day business trip to Brazil, called for consultation between Housing and the Environment Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal and Food Production, Land and Marine Affairs Minister Vasant Bharath to find a solution.

She then expressed her confidence that the matter could be resolved in the interest and satisfaction of all concerned, according to the statement from Ross Advertising, which handled public relations for the United National Congress (UNC) in last year’s election campaign.

The statement was not issued by the Office of the Prime Minister which usually sends out all releases on her behalf locally and when she is overseas. Staff at the office were unaware of the Prime Minister’s statement.

Persad-Bissessar’s decision to order said halt to bulldozing of farmlands was prompted by two protests yesterday morning by dozens of farmers, first at the Ministry of Food Production in St Clair and later at the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) at South Quay, Port-of-Spain.

The farmers were angry over the bulldozing of more than 50 acres of crops in Mausica Road, D’Abadie by the HDC on Easter Monday. All 100 acres were due to be cleared and prepared for housing but the bulldozers were halted by an injunction filed that same morning in the Port-of- Spain High Court by two affected farmers.

The farmers began their protest at about 9 am yesterday outside the Ministry of Food Production in St Clair. Food Production Minister Vasant Bharath met with their leaders, including president of the Agricultural Society of TT Dhano Sookoo and member of the National Food Crop Farmers Association/president of the TT Goat and Sheep Society Shiraz Khan.

Bharath told Sookoo and Khan he was extremely disturbed by the bulldozing, especially of crops which were almost ready to be harvested.

The minister also assured them he would speak to acting Minister of Housing, Emmanuel George, in the Senate later in the day. Moonilal is overseas on private business in London. Speaking to Newsday afterward, Bharath confirmed he had spoken to George, however a resolution would have to wait until tomorrow.

“Emmanuel George said it was a difficult decision to make as acting Minister of Housing and the Environment so we agreed to wait until Thursday when Dr Moonilal returns to discuss the matter then meet with the farmers.”

Bharath told Newsday despite the wait, he wanted to address the matter “as quickly as we possibly can because we know how traumatic it is for the farmers.”

After speaking to Bharath at his head office yesterday morning, the farmers’ convoy of slow- moving, car horn-honking, lights-flashing, vehicles slowly made its way to 44-46 South Quay, Port-of-Spain, head office of the HDC.

FARMERS from Page 5A

Once there, they dumped uprooted sweet potato and hot pepper plants on the sidewalk before propping a bobolee of HDC managing director Jearlean John on the sidewalk railing.

Those were some of the plants that had been uprooted the day before during the HDC bulldozing exercise.

While fellow farmers chanted “Jearlean John must go” and “the farmers want we money”, Devand Madahoo stuffed a hot pepper plant in the bobolee’s shirt, proclaiming “ent you like things hot? Then have a pepper plant.”

The farmers’ frustration and anger over losing thousands of dollars worth of crops, many of which were almost ready to harvest, seemed focused entirely on John.

At one point during the hour-long protest, John’s bobolee was slapped about the face, chest and back.

However, the plan to clear the land was not a surprise to affected farmers.

On January 25, 2011, Moonilal told hundreds of UNC and People’s Partnership supporters that Government intended to build 800 homes at Pineapple South Lands, off Mausica Road, D’Abadie. The area is also known as Pineapple Smith Lands.

Moonilal made the announcement during celebrations at Rienzi Complex, Couva, on the first anniversary of Persad-Bissessar’s election as political leader of the UNC.

He told those gathered that the sod will be turned the following week for construction of 800 houses, at an estimated cost of $500 million.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, following the protest outside her office, John said the Commissioner of State Lands had duly served “quit notices” to farmers in Pineapple Smith Lands, informing them of the HDC’s intention to prepare the land for the construction of houses.

Notices were also issued to farmers on State lands in Egypt Village, Endeavour, John disclosed.

“The Commissioner of State Lands sent me a letter dated thirty-first March, received in my office on ninth April...Pineapple Smith Lands, D’Abadie, quit notices had been served on squatters. A letter dated twenty-sixth February 2010, was sent to the HDC, informing the corporation of this action...(while) Egypt Trace (notices) was handed out on the twenty-third of March, 2011.”

John said the matter dated back to 2008 under the PNM government adding there would never be a right time to clear lands occupied by squatters or farmers.

“The accusation is they did not know. I have now dispelled that. HDC does not serve quit notices, that is a function of the Commissioner of State Lands, and that was duly done,” she said.

John also said farmers had a democratic right to protest outside HDC and she was not bothered by their actions.

Labour leaders also met with farmers while they were at the Ministry of Food Production’s office, vowing to stand up with them.

The Congress of the People (COP), a member party of the People’s Partnership coalition, also condemned the HDC’s actions with acting chairman Vernon de Lima saying the “destruction of farmlands seems to be nothing more than a continuation by this Government of failed PNM policies.”

The COP, he said, was committed to a land development policy that balanced the needs of all citizens.


"Stop bulldozing now!"

More in this section