Faced with food shortages, joblessness and no money to pay rent, over 30 families have moved into former Caroni 1975 Limited lands at Cedar Hill, Claxton Bay, to plant crops.
But before they could begin occupation full swing, teams from the Office of the Commissioner of State Lands led by Inspector Tyrone Ramadhin moved into the area yesterday and issued a stern warning to stop all illegal occupation.
Ramadhin said they had received reports that people from Claxton Bay, San Juan, Central, Laventille and Morvant had entered the area to grab land.
“On Friday I spoke to the leader, who said they wanted to meet with us so they will know what is the best way to go about acquiring the land legally. I gave them a stern warning that they should desist from occupying the land and they will face the consequences if they do not adhere to our law,” Ramadhin said.
He urged the squatters not to use their limited savings to put up houses or crops on the land as they will be bulldozed.
“We know that times are difficult but we are appealing to you to desist from occupying this land. There are procedures to land acquisition so you should do the right thing and follow the procedures,” Ramadhin added.
He told Guardian Media that squatting had escalated within recent times throughout the country.
When Guardian Media visited Cedar Hill Trace yesterday, over 100 residents had gathered on the lands, which were freshly burnt and cleared. Pieces of pipe as well as wooden stakes were erected to demarcate boundaries.
A few people shied away from media cameras but the majority stood their ground saying they had no choice but to squat.
Pre-school teacher Lincia John said she was a single parent with three children. Since the COVID-19 restrictions, John said she has been out of work and life has been filled with worries.
“I have to pay $2,300 in rent and I am struggling. We heard land was being given out here and that was why we came,” she added.
Brian Warner meanwhile said they did not want to break the law but they had no other choice.
“We are all from the Claxton Bay area. We have no outsiders from Morvant or Laventille here. All we want is some land to plant so we can feed our families,” he said.
He called on Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat to offer short term leases to them so they could plant food. Warner said there was no place to plant where they currently live.
“Plus most of us are renting and we have no work. Things are getting hard and we want the opportunity to plant so we can feed ourselves,” Warner said.
Routie Ragbir said she had been planting off Cedar Hill Trace for the past two months.
“I was the first one who started to plant here. People see me doing it and they too started to come,” Ragbir said.
She also said she did not know who authorised the other residents to take land but said everyone should be given a piece because people had their families to take care of.
Akinee Henry said nobody had intentions of building structures on the land. He said the majority of squatters came from Hilltop Avenue, Rig Road and Cedar Hill Road.
“All we want to do is plant,” he said.
Questions were yesterday sent to Rambharat for comment on WhatsApp but he did not respond. When called several times, he said via a text message that he was unable to talk.