We agree that the D’Abadie farmers were legally obliged to vacate the lands, but this problem stretched back to 2008. Discussions could have been held with squatting farmers in order to establish a date which facilitated the collection of crops and which did not delay in manner untoward the housing project in whose way the farmers stand. Squatters were provided with a mere month of quit notice, an impossibly short period for the gathering of crops and relocation. Perhaps the squatters could have been offered monetary compensation for their hours of labour and the State taken over the responsibility for tending to and harvesting the crops. We agree that sooner or later the farmers would have had to forfeit something but losses could and should have been minimised. In an effort to increase their share of the vote, successive administrations have regularised squatters who placed nothing in the nation’s food basket. Surely we could have allowed these illegal but productive farmers to reap what they had sowed.
What a tragic waste of food this has been and how ironic such massive agricultural damage has come during the tenure of a government that has repeatedly spoken of its dedication to increasing local food production! Of interest is the absolute disconnect between ministries and institutions. We must inquire if Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal was cognisant that 100 acres of land were being used for agricultural development when in January he announced the sod would be turned for the building of 800 houses in the area and if he did, whether he thought of appealing to his colleague at Food Production, Vasant Bharath for his input. The HDC was certainly in the know. It appears the folks there expected farmers to roll over while the bulldozers callously uprooted 50 acres of crops.
We are curious to see what action the Government will now take. The farmers have attained an injunction against the bulldozers so the Prime Minister’s directive for the bulldozing to cease forthwith may be a moot point. Until the matter is heard before the court, the machines cannot approach the remaining 50 acres of crops. No more sod may be turned for houses. The Government will probably have to wait for harvest before it can return with its bulldozers. The court may possibly determine the State’s actions unreasonable and order it to compensate the farmers.
Our twin island state possesses limited land which must be divided among a multiplicity of stakeholders all of whom want a piece of the pie, a situation which makes governance the task of choosing the lesser evil or the greater good. The citizens of Trinidad and Tobago need a roof over their heads yet they cannot be expected to eat bricks. We have been building houses for years at the expense of agriculture and our food bill is by far the largest contributor to runaway inflation. Can we afford to bulldoze 50 acres of food for any number of houses, be they 800 or 8,000?
The PP may have to re-evaluate its priorities and articulate these more clearly. At the moment, great confusion must reign in the minds of the people: is the Government dedicated to providing food or houses? The case of Pineapple South Lands may concretise for the administration and the country the reality that we cannot have our cake and eat it. We may not be able to build many more houses on State land, which by necessity will have to be reallocated to farming.
But if we must oust farmers to put up houses we might wish to re-evaluate the State’s moving methods which though legitimate, are largely inherited from colonial days and require modernising and humanising. This newspaper might be wrong in its assertions — maybe the squatters were disposed to intractability and would have rejected any form of appeasement. On the other hand, after sending out the bulldozers, Government is left with little option but to appease. Forgive us but this sounds a lot like carrot and stick diplomacy. Or stick and carrot diplomacy.