Despite accepting the Government's compensation offer, dislocated Chaguanas and D'Abadie farmers have rejected relocation and are calling on Prime Minister Kamla Persad- Bissessar to intervene on their behalf on her arrival home on Sunday. Farmers appealed for Prime Ministerial intervention yesterday after a two-and-a-half-hour meeting with Housing Minister Roodal Moonilal and Food Production Minister Vasant Bharath at Bharath's ministry in St Clair. The meeting was the first face-to-face encounter of farmers with Moonilal, after destruction of their crops on Monday by Moonilal's HDC agency.
Moonilal said a middle-class housing project was being built on the land. He distanced himself from the bulldozing fiasco. He said when he left T&T on vacation last week, he was unaware the HDC was going to clear the land on Monday. Moonilal said HDC CEO Jearlean John had acted pursuant to HDC's mandate, and..."although she has taken a beating on this, that's par for the course." The minister who said yesterday's meeting was "very intense at times," confirmed both sides were upset. Farmers armed with attorneys, left the meeting grim, saying they had asked the Government for four concessions and were leaving only with the offer of compensation for trauma and damaged crops.
They have accepted market value payment for damaged crops which would be paid by the Housing Ministry. Government also agreed to remove police from the land. T&T Sheep and Goat Farmers Association president, Shiraz Khan, said Moonilal did not deliver the apology farmers wanted. "That is disrespect to the people, who campaigned...They are doing things the previous administration did to farmers," he said. "They also refused to allow us to continue farming the land and have offered a 30-year tenure on other lands which we rejected. "Why relocate farmers who spent 30 years developing these lands? Why not relocate housing projects?"
Leaping at Prime Ministerial intervention, Agricultural Society president Dhanoo Sookoo said: "Of course, that's a must! An immediate meeting-we want her to make the decision in this."
Khan added: "The Prime Minister was the one saying on the election platform that agricultural lands would stay in agriculture...We want her to take charge of this right now! Just like she did with everything when she come back to the country." Sookoo added: "We wish to let Mr Moonilal and the entire Government know that we regret the action we'll be taking tomorrow (today) and the days ahead-we're here to secure food for the people of T&T and we'll stand and fight for those arable lands to remain in agriculture." Farmers will be demonstrating today, starting at Woodford Square, Port-of- Spain at 1.30 pm. The Lower House is on a break until around May 13, the Government confirmed. Khan said: "We'll continue doing what we have to-we want to send a loud message to this administration that we're not going to take what the PNM administration did to us."
They said crop value and compensation would be assessed at next week's meeting. Moonilal said: "We've always said we regret what happened. I wish it didn't. Not wanting to be presumptious or too full of myself, I'd say that had I been in T&T, it would not have happened that way-I don't know. "But the outcome may well have been the same, as those lands were earmarked for several years and farmers received eviction notices," he added. He said 15 Egypt Village farmers and three of four at Mausica who farm 73 acres were notified. On who mandated the bulldozing, Moonilal said once served with notices, action was imminent and once served, bulldozing was a "logical final step." He added: "There was no set date. Neither myself nor Bharath got a call and pressed any button. These agencies do their work.
"Currently LSA is contemplating the destruction of squatters and when they will do that is up to their leadership." He said HDC had the authority under the law to act in the farmers' issue. "Ms John acted pursuant to the mandate...she's been following these issues," he said. "But there are some aspects of the outcome which you regret and had I been in the area, maybe we could have intervened earlier." Moonilal said both sides agreed on a joint team to decide what land would be used for housing and agriculture. He said he hoped Monday's incident would never recur. Bharath said he did not think the situation would cause a hike in food prices.