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Squatters with solar panels

Friday, June 8, 2018
Agri Minister: Forest Reserves being invaded
Minister of Agriculture, Land & Fisheries, Clarence Rambharat

There is intense squatting in 11 areas within the 34 forest reserves in T&T’s North East region, including one squatting community with substantial houses - featuring solar panels - belonging to members of the military, says Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat.

Rambharat spoke about the situation during yesterday’s Senate debate on amendments to the Land Adjudication Act.

This provides procedures for the adjudication of rights and interests in land whereby any claim made by an individual will be thoroughly investigated before settling such rights and interests.

UNC Senator Taharqa Obika urged Government to go to squatting communities to speak to them about proposed amendments and table clauses in simple language for people to better understand.

Rambharat said it was not necessary to take consultations on the bill to squatter communities as squatters “had nothing to fear under the PNM Government.”

However, Rambharat said squatting in forest reserves and environmentally sensitive areas are rampant in T&T. He said it was so endemic and entrenched that the State must continue regularisation and it is necessary for the State to protect areas.

He said the 11 squatting areas in the 34 northeast forest reserves involve 2,664 acres which have 3,549 structures on them.

“People have been living there 40, 50 years or more; such as Pine Settlement in Sangre Grande which in 2005 had 87 acres under squatter development and by 2015 that became 405 acres,” he added.

Other forest reserve areas affected are the Valencia “long stretch”, Matura and Melajo forests. Rambharat said the bill will protect lands, but issues still remain since it was difficult to turn the situation back.

Rambharat also addressed queries by UNC Senator Wade Mark who - in a recent debate- called for him to supply answers on how one Ricky Ramnanan obtained 15 acres of Mon Jaloux land for farming. Mark raised the query while discussing land fraud concerns.

Rambharat said Ramnanan was an “outstanding young farmer” who is married to another farmer and they operated in Cunupia. He said he thought Mark knew Ramnanan since a 2014 news report listed Ramnanan as receiving an award for sustainable farming from then — Environment minister Ramona Ramdial. He said Ramnanan had built mud banks and is a leading supplier of peppers used in “Berties’s pepper sauce” and is also a melongene supplier to Massy Stores.

Rambharat said he had recently visited Ramnanan’s farm. He said Ramnanan rents his land from the private sector and also leases State land. Rambharat said a UNC colleague of Mark’s suggested he meet with Ramnanan who wanted to expand his holdings to meet private sector supply demands.

On another land grant issue raised in an earlier debate - concerning grant of land by the Commissioner of State Lands to Alana Haynes - Rambharat said a report was sent to the Prime Minister on the issue.


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