Friday 25 September, 2020

Dr Moonilal threatens legal action on St Augustine housing plans

Former housing minister Dr Roodal Moonilal said he will take legal action if Government goes forward with proposed housing plans in St Augustine, which are allegedly near to agricultural nurseries at the University of the West Indies (UWI).

Minister of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries, Clarence Rambhahrat, however later clarified that the proposed site for the expansion of the East Grove Housing Development is not home to the St Augustine nurseries but is on the south side bordering the Southern Main Road, and is different to where the nurseries are located. 

The United National Congress (UNC) said last Friday that there had been a meeting to discuss a multi-use housing development at Curepe, at a site they claimed was also home to the St Augustine Nurseries.

Dr Moonilal said if there are any plans to construct on the Nurseries then he will take legal action, adding that the action was a 'thief-in-the-night attempt to steal arable agricultural lands".

"The disturbing decision to bulldoze prime food-producing acreage at the St. Augustine Nurseries for a housing project will result in increased importation of foodstuff and further depletion of critical foreign exchange. The current failed administration has taken the annual food import bill to an unprecedented $5.6 billion."

"The move will be yet another telling blow to the ailing agricultural sector, which has declined markedly under the current inept government. The move follows the earlier bizarre decision to shutdown Caroni Green Ltd., which was a foreign exchange earner."

"The hopeless Rowley regime – which has not built a single housing unit in two and a half years – has opted to launch its legacy project on lands which, for decades, have spawned much local food production," he said.

He said the mandatory environmental impact assessment consultation was conducted in "typical PNM clandestine manner, during Carnival weekend and after only nominal public advertising".

A petition has since been raised against the use of the Nurseries for housing.

"This confirms that the Government is aware that its decision is a highly questionable one and wants to avoid public scrutiny," he said.

He added that government should indicate whether the use of agricultural acreage for housing conforms to its land use policy. In addition, the Town and Country Planning agency must state whether the requisite approvals were granted.

"Paradoxically, both the PNM’s 2015 general election manifesto and the 2017-18 national budget touted agricultural production as one means of economic diversification."

"Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley was among Caricom leaders who, in October 2016, committed to greater investment in agriculture and reduction of food imports."

"Of note is that Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat commended the seizure of contraband imported dasheen, while at the same time moving toward slashing local agricultural production."

'The proposed housing project on arable agricultural lands is further testimony of a lack of a plan for construction of homes despite a Housing Development Corporation waiting list of almost 300,000."

"I serve public notice that I will take appropriate legal measures to prevent the execution of this reckless and high-handed decision," he said.

Meanwhile, former trade minister Vasant Bharath said that although he is not averse to creating housing for citizens, agricultural lands should be off-limits.

"I have absolutely no problem with government building houses for those in need. I do however have a serious problem with any government using the most arable agricultural land in the country to do so."

"It is why I confronted PNM bulldozers in 2009 in St. Augustine and publicly stood against my own UNC government in 2011 for the same reason. I intend to do just that against this government's plans to build 500 houses on the lands of the St.Augustine nurseries......all in a desperate attempt to voter pad for the next General Election."

"This is where it ends. We must say enough is enough. We must never cower to governments. They must be afraid of the people not the other way around. Food before votes," he said. 

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