Farmers, armed with placards, gathered at 10 am yesterday at Woodford Square, Port-of-Spain where president of the Trinidad and Tobago Sheep and Goat Farmers Association Shiraz Khan revealed a letter, which he described as a “weapon of mass destruction for Moonilal.”
Khan said the letter, dated March 23, was written by the Commissioner of State Lands to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Food Production, Lands and Marine Affairs.
In reading the letter, Khan said the Commissioner of State Lands had informed the HDC that the lands at Gordon Estate, which includes Egypt Trace and Dass Trace, were not given by the State to the HDC.
“The acting director of the Town and Country Planning Division (TCPD) informed the Minister of Housing and the Environment that Gordon Estate is Caroni lands which have not been identified in the allocated lands for the divestment secretariat. Residential approval was granted at the outline level in 1998 for the Dass Trace area. There are 22 farmers on the site planting crops, and so, the bulldozing operations being conducted by the HDC is therefore illegal and should cease immediately. Destruction of the farmers’s crops by the HDC, and compensation for the same, may be an issue,” Khan read.
He said the Commissioner of State of Lands, which falls under the Ministry of Food Production, informed the HDC that 18 farmers have occupied between 40 to 44 hectares of land for between 12 to 40 years.
“It is obvious that the time the farmers have been on the lands was long, and the landlord failed to evict them in a timely manner. To this end the quit notice should be withdrawn, regularisation of their tenancy should be considered if the State decides to return the land to agriculture. A request to the TCPD for a change in land use from residential to agriculture will be prerequisite if agriculture is going to be pursued,” Khan read, ending the letter.
Khan said he found the letter on the ground in front of the gate to his house, and first prodded it with a stick to ensure it was not “a bomb”. He did not let reporters examine the letter nor did he provide copies, saying his lawyers have to advise on if to release it.
He insisted that Moonilal directly violated the law by allowing the HDC to bulldoze the said lands on April 25.
“A minister has violated the law, and so, the National Security Minister should investigate,” Khan said, before leading farmers to the HDC and Ministry of Housing offices on South Quay, where Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar handed keys for houses to 50 persons.
After the ceremony, reporters on that assignment asked the Prime Minister to comment on Khan’s claims about which State agency was responsible for the lands at Egypt Trace, Persad- Bissessar said the issue made little difference as the farmers were still squatting on State lands.