Land grabbing farmers have struck again, this time targeting Fairfield Village, Broomage Estate in Princes Town.Sunday Guardian understands estate police officers are expected to visit the area next week.The land invasion comes in the wake of last Monday's bulldozing of lands in Mausica and at Egypt Village in Chaguanas by the Housing Development Corporation (HDC).The HDC disclosed yesterday that it had earmarked the Princes Town land for the construction of 2,500 housing units on 466 acres of land. The first phase of construction is expected to yield some 800 houses.
However, farmers have once again ignored the warning by the HDC and are moving to occupy hundreds of acres of land in the area.Acting on an exclusive tip off by a concerned resident on Friday, a Sunday Guardian team visited the area and discovered that the land had been recently ploughed.A few wooden makeshift shacks were seen constructed on the land where farmers have opted to rest their heads after gardening.In fact, a farmer who had just finished watering acres of bodi made a hasty retreat after noticing he was being photographed."I have to make a living....I am trying something," the farmer yelled before quickly running away.The Government is facing a fight on its hands regarding similar situations in central and east Trinidad by farmers who are squatting on State lands.
Supported by Food Production Minister Vasant Bharath, farmers are protesting a decision by Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal to clear lands at Egypt Village in Chaguanas and at Pineapple Smith Lands in D'Abadie for the first phase of the construction of houses since assuming office last year. The farmers were served with quit notices earlier this year but refused to stop cultivating State lands.Attempting to justify their cause for squatting on almost 200 acres of land, the farmers argue that they are using the lands for agricultural purposes.A number of Government officials, among them Minister of Labour Errol Mc Leod and Congress of The People vice chairman Vernon De Lima have been vocal on the issue condemning the move by HDC to clear the lands in preparation for the construction of houses.
Farmers claim foul...they strike again
HDC officials yesterday projected that out of the 152 acres of land at Egypt Village, only 15 acres were graded by the State's housing provider on Monday last.While at Pineapple Smith Lands five out of the 75 acres were cleared.Contacted for comment on the issue yesterday, Bharath, who is openly standing in solidarity with the farmers, sang a different tune."It could be five or 25 acres, I do not know. I never made a specific claim. It could be so or it could be when the Prime Minister ordered a halt on the clearing of lands. That is as far as they reached. Our surveyors are going out on Monday with members of the farming association to assess exactly how much land was bulldozed for the issue of compensation."
Told that farmers had struck again and were now moving to squat at Fairfield in Princes Town, Bharath said: "Those people would not qualify for the lands because clearly they were not there for more than five years or more. The law is clear. Once you are on the State lands for more than seven years you would be given favourable consideration regarding land tenure because the State system has not allowed for the proper regularisation of lands."
Bharath and otherMPs beg for houses
Bharath is one of the many Government MPs who have admitted to being burdened by the cries of constituents who are in urgent need of housing.In fact, a random check by Sunday Guardian revealed that the demand for housing is the most urgent plight in nearly of all of the 41 constituencies.It was back in 2009 Bharath had claimed that thousands of his constituents were in dire need of houses claiming that they were sidelined for housing under the former administration.However, statistics from Trinidad Guardian archives indicate that between 2003 and 2009, half of the housing units were built in Opposition strongholds.
Pleas for additional housing were also made by former Caroni Central MP Hamza Rafeek and Mayaro MP Winston Gypsy Peters who claim there was an urgent demand for housing in their constituencies.In fact, Minister of the People, Glenn Ramadharsingh, earlier this year admitted that topping the request list for assistance at his ministry was housing."First it was health, but undeniably the request for housing is a very big area because there is a great demand. Every day people are coming to me asking for a house," the minister said.
HDC has 6,975 housesto distribute
The HDC has confirmed that there are currently 6,975 houses that are available, or close to being available, for distribution to the applicants for public housing.At present, 129,000 applicants are on the corporation's database.It was only last week that Moonilal admitted that his ministry was two months behind in commencing the first phase of the People's Partnership construction of houses.
Data obtained from HDC by the Sunday Guardian revealed that the 6,975 houses available for distribution are spread among 57 housing sites throughout T&T and include town houses, duplexes, apartments and single family units.And, according to HDC's managing director Jearlean John, a percentage of the remaining houses are to be allotted for emergency cases.Documents obtained by Sunday Guardian revealed that the corporation's Project Status Report as at February 2011 stated that the area of Edinburgh 500 South, Chaguanas had the most available units.The report stated that a total of 807 units are vacant in the area. They include-468 town houses, 196 apartment and 143 single family units.
HDC committed to delivery
The housing ministry is steadfast in ensuring that the backlog list is reduced.The housing minister has admitted that he regrets the circumstances before him, but said that he was committed to fulfilling his mandate.He is supported by John, who said that on daily basis she is forced to deal with tonnes of letters and telephone calls from citizens all requesting housing.On a daily basis, the HDC head is bombarded by people from as early as 4am who stake out the corporation's South Quay office in Port-of-Spain attempting to speak with her.
"All I hear is 'Ms John I want a house.' It is either someone house collapsed, was destroyed by fire or somebody needs to be rescued from a domestic dispute. As we all know, shelter is one of the basic needs of life. We are trying to make housing available to all but to do this we need to start building more houses. We are down to board and more houses need to be built."
Empathising with the farmers, John, who produced copies of the quit notices, reiterated that the farmers were given an opportunity to vacate the lands."We are committed to helping all. For years farmers were allowed to plant the lands. The time has come for the scale to balance... housing is in demand because we have reached a critical juncture and now we need to meet the needs of people which in turn would stimulate the economy. HDC was set up to serve the people and we are committed to doing that."