Police arrested the head of the Highway Reroute Movement Dr Wayne Kublalsingh and wrecked his vehicle from a highway construction site at Mon Desir in Fyzabad after he attempted to stop excavators from bulldozing forests on private lands Saturday.
Dr Kublalsingh had been called into the area by resident Tara Chaitoo after the heavy equipment rolled into Roots Avenue, Branch Trace and began bulldozing lands which residents say have not yet been acquired by the State.
Chaitoo who lives next to the site said at least five residents owned lands in that area and the State had not paid a cent to acquire it.
One resident Phillis Priam said, “They have already cleared down half an acre of my land and I have not received a single cent. I don’t mind if they building the highway but residents must be properly compensated.”
She explained that nobody has negotiated with her and when she confronted the contractor to enquire why they were on her lands, she was told that someone from the National Infrastructure Development Corporation (NIDCO) will be in touch with her.
Another resident Sanker Lalman said he had to chase away highway construction workers from his lands by threatening them with a cutlass.
“They take half of my garden land and now they want to take the spot I am living on,” Lalman said.
Asked whether he was compensated, Lalman said, “They give me nothing! They boldface. They rude! They no good! They mash down my cassava, my coconut trees and they bring some paper to say they taking my house. I pull out my cutlass and tell them I have papers too. What I give them with this, they will take,” Lalman said gesturing with his blade.
When Guardian Media arrived on the site, Dr Kublalsingh was seen sitting on a green stool at the site. Three vehicles had blocked the path of the excavators.
About a dozen police officers led by Insp Peter Ramdeen advised Dr Kublalsingh to remove the vehicles. Two of the residents later complied but Dr Kublalsingh stood his ground. The car was eventually wrecked and taken to the Fyzabad police station.
Kublalsingh said based on a recent court ruling, the Government was free to work on any part of the Debe to Mon Desir segment of the highway.
However, he said they were not allowed to move in on private lands which have not yet been acquired. He said under the Land Acquisition Act, Section 4 and 5 notices expires in six months and the last time notices were served was in 2014. He said Section 3 notices related to scoping works and surveying.
Because no surveys and soil tests had been done on the lands within recent times and no new notices were served, Kublalsingh said it was illegal for the State to come on private lands and excavate.
“If they say they have the relevant Section 4 notices, show me the Section 3 or 4 notices which are updated. Show it to me,” Kublalsingh said.
However, Insp Ramdeen said he had perused documents from NIDCO and was satisfied that the State was acting within the law.
None of these documents was provided to residents or the media.
Ramdeen said the notices served had not expired because works had been ongoing by the State.
After the cars were wrecked, two excavators then lumbered forward towards Kublalsingh. He walked in front of the machinery. Ramdeen later advised him to remove himself and he refused. He was then placed under arrest and taken to the nearby police vehicle. At no time did any of the residents stand with him as he confronted the police.
However, Tara Chaitoo broke down in tears saying she regretted calling Kublalsingh.
“He did not get a chance to eat breakfast or lunch and they arrest him. I am sorry I called him yesterday to say they had started bulldozing the trees. If I didn’t call him, he would not have been arrested,” she sobbed.
Chaitoo also said that many residents had not received any monies for their lands.
Resident Faiz Ramjohn said NIDCO should have spoken to the residents and brought proof of their claims.
Contacted for comment, Minister of Works Rohan Sinanan said he could not respond based on information received from the Guardian. He said the matter was being dealt with by NIDCO. Sinanan said he was expected to receive a report on the matter and will issue a further comment once he is apprised of the situation.
Reporter: Radhica De Silva