Anna-Lisa Paul and Bobie-Lee Dixon
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Squatters demand $3m for two houses
Three million dollars. That is the hefty price tag two land-grabbing farmers are demanding for mansions they illegally constructed on 148 acres of State-owned lands at Pineapple Smith Lands in D’Abadie. Whether taxpayers would be saddled with this million-dollar debt was still in debate as up to late last night Government sources told Sunday Guardian the issue was still being negotiated. “The request is simply ludicrous. These farmers were squatting and are now demanding unreasonable sums of compensation. It is really getting out of hand. The Government is setting a bad precedent by bargaining with farmers whose crops were bulldozed. It should never reach to this. No matter how you look at it squatting is illegal. Can we afford to pay huge sums to all farmers who construct houses on lands?,” a source asked.
According to the Land Acquisition Act 1994 the farmers are not entitled to any compensation. Section 12: Part III (c) entitled Compensation states: “Where the value of the land is increased by reason of the use thereof or of any premises thereon in manner which could be restrained by any Court, or is contrary to law, or is detrimental to the health of the inmates of the premises or to the public health, the amount of that increase shall not be taken into account.” The State lands are earmarked for a 800-unit housing development by the Housing Development Corporation (HDC). The defiant farmers have been each squatting on 74 acres of land and opted to construct sprawling concrete mansions next to their produce to secure their spots. They are both demanding $1.5 million in compensation.
After serving quit notices to the farmers earlier this year, the HDC moved in on the lands at Mauisca and at Egypt Village in Chaguanas on Easter Monday to commence construction. Farmers protested the move, but the State has indicated its intention to continue with the project. Compensation and alternative lands are now being sought for the affected farmers. But even as the State moves to relocate the farmers to a 200-acre plot of land off Jermingham Avenue in Egypt Village, farmers were caught once again squatting on the land during a tour of the proposed relocation site yesterday. Food Production Minister Vasant Bharath expressed surprise at the squatters yesterday but assured the relocating farmers that all would be facilitated. A three-acre four plot of land is also being sought for relocating farmers West of Piarco Airport. The State is facing a fight from farmers who occupy State lands throughout the country. A Guardian team visited the area on Friday and similar cases are also occurring at Broomage Fairfield in Princes Town, Union Hallin San Fernando and in Exchange Village in Couva.
Meanwhile, Sunday Guardian understands members of the Public Services Association (PSA) are expected to meet in an emergency session today to discuss the issue of housing that forms part of five per cent agreement the union settled for. This after, disgruntled members said that concerns have been raised about whether the HDC would be able to follow through with the agreement due to the demand for housing. “There are over 35,000 public servants and according to HDC there are only 6,000 plus houses. We need clarity on this issue because the Prime Minister and the PSA agreed to housing benefits for all public servants. What is being put in the public domain is saying something different. “We need PSA president Watson Duke or the Prime MInister to come clean on this matter,” a concerned worker said. Attempts to contact PSA president Watson Duke proved futile yesterday.