After an almost decade-long legal battle, Environmentalist Dr Wayne Kublalsingh and the Highway Reroute Movement (HRM) have emerged victorious against the State over the construction of the controversial Debe to Mon Desir segment of the Point Fortin Highway project.
Delivering a judgement during a virtual hearing, yesterday afternoon, High Court Judge James Aboud upheld the group’s claim that their legitimate expectation, that the then Government would abide by a technical report on the project produced by former Independent Senator Dr James Armstrong, was breached.
The group also contended that the breach contravened its members’ constitutional rights to “life, security, enjoyment of property, to freedom of expression and freedom of association”.
As a secondary issue, the group also sought and obtained a declaration that the alleged actions of former national security minister Jack Warner and the T&T Regiment in destroying the Debe protest camp on June 27, 2012, was illegal.
As part of the decision, Aboud ordered the State to pay approximately $500,000 in damages to the group and the legal costs they incurred for the lawsuit.
Aboud delivered a summary of his decision during the hearing and was expected to issue his detailed written decision, shortly after. However, the written judgement had not been sent to the parties, up to late yesterday.
In a brief telephone interview, Kublalsingh said he was happy with the judgement as it reaffirmed his faith in the Judiciary.
He claimed that based on what he had heard during the hearing, Aboud appeared “angry” over the actions of State officials in the case.
“Our (this country’s) development has been politicised. We need to do things scientifically,” he said, as he thanked his legal team.
Despite the legal victory, Kublalsingh admitted that he and his group’s fight is far from over.
Kublalsingh noted that the group was still challenging the outcome of a separate lawsuit over the current Government’s move to restart the project after it stalled due to issues with financing and Brazilian contractor OAS Construtora.
In a judgement, in April, Justice Ricky Rahim ruled that although the group had a legitimate expectation that there would have been consultation before the restart, the State could not be held liable for breaching it as it was in the public’s interest to do so.
Rahim said: “There is a high public interest component in ensuring that money already expended is not wasted or thrown away by way of the degradation of existing structures without properly securing them, in this case by completing them.”
Kublalsingh also said that as part of the appeal, the group has filed for an injunction to stop the work over alleged breaches of the Land Acquisition Act. The injunction application is expected to come up for hearing on November 5. A date for the hearing of the substantive appeal is yet to be set by the Judiciary.
Kublalsingh maintained that the dispute could have been resolved without the need for litigation.
“We are asking for something simple-sit with us and talk,” Kublalsingh said.
The lawsuit arose as a result of the group’s long-standing battle with the Government over the segment of the project.
Kublalsingh embarked on two hunger strikes in protest of the construction-the first in 2012, which lasted 21 days and a second in 2014 which lasted 288 days.
After the first hunger strike, former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar appointed a team of 17 professionals led by Armstrong to consider the group’s environmental claims.
Armstrong and his team produced a 700-page technical report, which Kublalsingh and the group claimed was ignored.
Testifying in the trial of the case, Kublalsingh claimed to have gotten permission from the National Agricultural Marketing and Development Corporation (Namdevco) to build the camp near its market in Debe.
He also admitted to resisting the soldiers as he felt that they were acting illegally in evicting him and his supporters and destroying their makeshift camp.
Kublalsingh and the HRM were represented by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, Fyard Hosein, SC, Rishi Dass, Anil Maraj, and Vijaya Maharaj.
The State was represented by Russell Martineau, SC, Deborah Peake, SC, Kelvin Ramkissoon, Shastri Roberts, and Ryanka Ragbir.