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Tears over eviction
Pensioner Ramdai Sankar looked on tearfully as two tractors uprooted and destroyed her crops at Egypt Trace, Endeavour Chaguanas last Monday. Clenching her fists in rage while standing on the balcony of her humble home, overlooking her nearby fields, Sankar, 65 was the first victim to feel the wrath of the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) as they move to acquire State lands for a housing project in the community. The Ministry of Housing has been on an accelerated housing drive to meet the needs of 125,000 applicants waiting in line for shelter. The demolition of Sankar’s eddoes, bodi, patchoi and cassava, in early stages of growth, came like a thief in the night.
Sankar feared that very soon her six farming neighbours, occupying 35 acres of prime agricultural lands, will also face the same fate. Having invested thousands of dollars in land preparation, seeds and fertilisers, Sankar laboured twice daily with her son Paul and daughter-in-law Angie to bring their crops to cultivation. However, last Monday, Sankar said she was awakened by the noise of two tractors which were preparing the lands she has been cultivating for over 25 years:
“Just so, they started grading the lands...clearing everything in sight. I couldn’t do anything except to cry seeing that my blood, sweat and tears were being flattened before my eyes.” Sankar described the actions as brutal and heartless. She said she was later informed by a technical team on the site that the Government needed the land for housing. The team, Sankar said, moved into the community last year to begin infrastructure work, mainly the building of pavements, roads and drainage. Sankar said she was not notified about the HDC’s move. “I had no idea Housing was going to come here. Then, just so, they just come and mash up my plot without talking about compensation and relocation.”
For years the lands, which belong to Caroni 1975 Ltd, were covered in towering grass which encouraged drug addicts and criminals in the community. “We started utilising the lands to discourage the undesirables,” said Sankar. Sankar said the action of the Government was in total contradiction to what was outlined in the People’s Partnership manifesto, which stated that the Government would have respect for agriculture, farmers and the land. The manifesto, Sankar said, clearly outlined that the Government will effect a national land use policy that specifies and protects land to be used exclusively for agriculture and regularise “squatter farm lands” on the basis of co-ooperative efforts.
Living on the edge
Farmer Karan Singh explained that last week his son Haresh was given notice to vacate the seven-acre plot they have been planting for more than 22 years. Singh said the man did not identify himself but told him he had to leave by early April. Unsure of what the future holds, Singh said he has been having sleepless nights and no end of worry. “It’s like living on the edge.” In January, Singh invested $40,000 in seedlings. On his sprawling land, he grows pumpkins, cassava, bodi, patchoi and eddoes on a large scale: “This is how I make my living. I have nothing to fall back on. If they say they were going to relocate me to another farm I would not have been so angry. But they ain’t saying a thing. What I go do now?” Singh said he feels betrayed by the Government because what the party fought for on the campaign trail in 2010 they have not been practising:
“You can’t say one thing and then do another. That is betraying the people.” Nearby, farmer Indar Campbell was busy planting corn on her three-acre plot with her four children. Oblivious to the mounting pressure their mother was facing, the children merrily played on a make-shift swing. Campbell said that while the younger generation was turning away from agriculture, she has been encouraging her children to plant the land to help the country’s development and help reduce its food import bill.
Continuing cycle of homes
Minister of Housing Dr Roodal Moonilal on Friday said that his ministry was moving forward with a continuing cycle of home construction at Egypt Village.He said he has been meeting the National Foodcrop Farmers Association to build consensus and adequately provide for the farmers who have occupied lands earmarked for housing.
NFCFA member Shiraz Mohammed said rather than embrace farmers who make a valid contribution to food security, the government was chasing them. Mohammed said while he recognised the need for housing, the Government was going about it the wrong way: “All parties have to sit together and work things out.” Contacted on Friday, director of corporate communications at the Ministry of Food Production, Land and Marine Affairs Yolande Agard-Simmons directed all questions concerning the farmers’ plight to the Ministry of Housing.
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