Two Government housing projects at Pineapple Smith Lands in D'Abadie and Egypt Trace in Chaguanas are to proceed as planned, despite calls for them to be stopped by protesting farmers. This was revealed by Housing and the Environment Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal, during yesterday's post-Cabinet news conference at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair. It was chaired by Food Production Minister Vasant Bharath, who said the matter was discussed in Cabinet yesterday.
The Housing Development Corporation (HDC) sent crews to bulldoze the farmers' crops over the Easter weekend to facilitate the commencement of construction of houses for citizens. The farmers secured an injunction from the court preventing the HDC from continuing to bulldoze the lands. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar also instructed the HDC to stop the clearing of lands pending consultations between the key stakeholders involved. "The actions on Easter Monday are regrettable, but I want to indicate it is not a matter that some people make it out to be-a matter of housing versus agriculture," Moonilal said initially.
Asked if he was saying the HDC was wrong to bulldoze the lands, Moonilal said: "What I am saying is that the process was regrettable...It was a distressful sight for many of us, it is not something that we like to see and I am confident we will not see that again." He admitted that he was aware of discussion on the matter with the HDC and farmers and also that notices were given to the farmers to vacate the lands. Moonilal said MP for the D'Abadie/ O'Meara, Sport and Youth Affairs Minister Anil Roberts had also informed the five farmers occupying the lands that it was earmarked for a housing project.
Moonilal said agriculture and housing were both critical elements of the People's Partnership Government policy. He said the Government had "taken note of the complaints of the farmers." He reiterated that the farmers were to be compensated and relocated to other lands where their security of tenure would be ensured.
Moonilal said there were more than 126,000 people who required housing units and that number was expected to reach 160,000 in the next few years. He said he received almost on a daily basis letters "sometimes soaked in tears" from people seeking housing units. "This is a serious development challenge that we face and we have to confront (it)," Moonilal said. He told reporters he was confident that in the end, both the farmers and the national community would benefit. Moonilal and Bharath later met with the protesting farmers.