Road not all paved in gold
By CAROL MATROO Sunday, June 10 2012
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Ramona Teelucksingh is unsure whether she would have to relocate from her home in Mon Desir....
The Solomon Hochoy Highway extension from Golconda through Debe to Point Fortin now seems heading for the courts as the Highway Re-route Movement steps up its action against the Government following a breakdown in their latest talks last week.
The intended extension has been met with mixed reviews from its inception, especially by the over 360 residents of Debe and San Francique who have been earmarked for relocation.
Works on the highway began early last year despite protest by the Highway Re-route Movement, which has set up camp in Debe as they continue to protest the decision to direct the highway through the communities from Debe to Mon Desir.
After meeting with activist Dr Wayne Kublalsingh on Friday, Works Minister Jack Warner said re-routing of the highway was not a possibility. He said while it may be possible to “tweak here and tweak a little there ... it does not seem that way”. Warner said while not everyone could be convinced of the importance of the highway, the vast majority of the stakeholders had agreed to move.
Kublalsingh advised the media that the group has hired attorneys Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj QC and Fyard Hosein and a team of lawyers to file a pre-action protocol letter to ask the court to legally put a halt to that part of the highway.
The highway will be 47 kilometres long with four lanes and 2.5 km with two lanes.
Highway Re-route is concerned, however, that the course plotted for the highway will interfere with wetlands passing through the swamp at great costs, exorbitant cost to the State, upsetting wildlife, destroying 13 communities and eventually causing flooding in borderline communities.
The National Infrastructure Development Company (Nidco), which was chosen over the Estate Management Business Development Company (EMBDC ) to construct the $7.2 billion highway, has assured that the proposed route avoids the major areas of environmental concern, including the Morne L’Enfer Reserve, Rousillac Swamp, Godineau Swamp and the South Oropouche Lagoon. Nidco adds that the proposed route will cross a very small area of the lagoon at its south-eastern boundary, but insists that it is not ecologically significant.
These issues seem irrelevant to some of the over 360 residents who will be directly affected by the highway, many of whom have toiled the land and laboured over their crops — Debe is an agricultural area — for decades. Most of the affected persons were born in this southern village, and so were their children and grand children.
Ameena Mohammed is one of the Debe residents who insists she is not leaving and feels they are being given a raw deal by Nidco.
Mohammed, a shop owner who has been residing at No 2 Branch Gopie Trace, Debe, for the past 40 years, is adamant that moving from her home or relocating her business is not an option.
“I feel real bad right now. I cannot rest here sister, how can I rest?” she told the Sunday Newsday during a visit to the village. Mohammed, who lives with her brother and his wife, said they were being duped by Nidco, who wants to relocate them to less than a lot of land when they currently live on two lots.
“I don’t want any compensation, I will stay here because this is my livelihood. Where I will go and live? They want to send me Petit Mourne. There has no place to open a business. How we will even build a toilet? We can’t build a toilet again with three-quarters of a lot of land.
“I know that place since I was a little girl. My father used to sell in Petit Mourne estate. I don’t know what this property is worth, only my brother will know, but it’s two lots of land, so how they could compensate me?” Mohammed countered.
The woman became emotional as she talked about her small parlour and the years she toiled in the cane fields.
“Let me tell you, (Works and Infrastructure Minister Austin) Jack Warner and (Edward) Moodie (Nidco) only fooling the people. I worked very hard to help my brother buy this land. I went on the scale with cart loads of (sugar) cane, but say what, Caroni not buying cane again. I don’t know about the other people around here, but I know how I feel,” she said.
“Imagine, you are doing this work, and then somebody come and stop you, you wouldn’t like that. I am a praying person in this house. I went to the Holy Land, you know sister, Mecca. I want to die in my house, no where else,” Mohammed insisted.
Hollis Ragoonanan, of Gandhi Trace, Debe, has been operating his auto garage for the past ten years. He lives with his wife and two sons above the garage. He admitted that when the initial proposal of the highway was presented to the residents he did not foresee any problems, adding that once he was fairly compensated he would relocate. Now, however, Ragoonanan is not quite so sure.
“Now I hear they want to send us to Petit Mourne, so right now I am standing my ground. I think if the highway has to re-route I have no problem with that, but I don’t really want to move from here,” Ragoonanan told Sunday Newsday.
“If I move it will definitely affect my business, plus I am living here too, with my wife and kids, so if I move from here I don’t know where I am going after. I have three workers so it will affect them too.”
Ragoonanan said if Government changed their minds and re-routed the highway, they stood a good chance of holding on to their homes and properties.
“If I have to move from here it would take me two years to rebuild.
I am not concerned that I would lose my customers because anywhere you go, they will find you, but I have a mortgage to pay. I don’t know what else to say, everything is at a standstill because we can’t make any decisions right now,” he said.
“We were supposed to upgrade here, but look at it. I play lawn tennis so I was going to build a tennis court there, but that stopped. You could see the wall and everything. At the back of the building I was building a service station to bay wash. I was already approved by the EMA (Environmental Management Agency). All we are hearing is that the highway is passing through here and nobody is saying anything, nothing about compensation.”
Ragoonanan said his property, including the garage, is worth about $4 million.
Seventy-one-year-old Kumar Samlal, of Branch Gopie Trace, Debe, has been a gardener since he was a child. It is all he knows. There is definitely no writing on the wall that will even suggest that this elderly man will leave his home any time soon, at least, not peaceably.
“Move to go where? The highway running right here, my whole family spilt up right through. Where I will go? And I understand that they are paying people little and nothing for their house and land and I am not agreeing to the highway to run here,” Samlal said.
“No compensation neither location. These people from Nidco coming and fooling people. They fool a woman just the other day. That woman come and bawl down the place because they underpay the woman and they make she break down she house. Now she has nowhere to go.
The house was valued between two to three million dollars and they gave her $300,000. She break half of the house and then they tell she break the next half now. When she break it down her grandchildren and everybody staying all over the place and she put up a few sheets of galvanise and staying there,” Samlal claimed.
Samlal said he was not told about any kind of compensation from any quarters, but has been offered documents to sign, which he has refused to do.
“If they compensate me where would I go ... send me in Petit Mourne, in a cemetery, well we don’t want to go there. I have a half acre of land here and they want to give us a plot, not even a lot, and they’re telling us if we have one acre of land and they give us one lot there it would value more than the acre. That is lie,” he said.
Asked what he thought was a fair compensation package, Samlal could not say.
“I don’t know yet. I can’t tell them, I can’t tell you either. I have to hear what they coming with because they fooling people all over the place. I am an old man, I am not a young boy. Where I going to take my family and start all over again, a new life?”
Devanand Soogrim, of Debe Trace, Debe, admitted that gardening has always been his source of making a living.
“I have been a farmer all my life and the highway would pass directly through my land. No amount of money could compensate me for my land. Money does finish and where would I get another piece of land like this. This is very fertile land,” Soogrim said.
Soogrim has four acres of land that is lush with ochro, bodi, pigeon peas and coconut. Steel beams adjacent to the garden, Soogrim pointed out, is the frame for a green house which he has discontinued since his hands are now tied. Rajpaul Lalchan is a rare soul in Debe that Sunday Newsday found willing to relocate. However, relocating will not come cheap for the Government, since Lalchan is asking for $3 million for his property.
A church on Debe Trace and the Lord Shiva Mandir will also have to be broken down if the highway takes its proposed path.
Mohan Baney, of Mon Desir, said he was told that he had to be relocated. “They asked me to sign a document so I could go ahead and value my place, so this means that I have to move because I am exactly on the Mon Desir Interchange,” he said.
Baney said while he felt the Debe to Mon Desir interchange was really unnecessary, he was not against the initial highway itself.
“I am 63 years old and that is property that I had inherited from my parents and their parents and it’s really hurting me that I have to leave. They make you cry everyday because you have plans for your generations to come,” Baney said. “The money is of no value to me right now. I don’t want to move, I would not like to move at all. This is our children’s inheritance that we will keep on handing down. The land is registered under my name.”
Baney has also refused to sign any documents brought before him, saying no one has given him any idea as to what he will be paid for his property.
“When I asked them if they knew that this highway was under protest right now, they said if I signed it or did not sign it they were going to mail it to me, so it’s a must,” he said.
He said he was shown a list with the names of evaluators and was told the cost of evaluating his property will be paid for by Government. “I told him I would like to go Raymond and Pierre because their names are on the list, too, so they told me that Raymond and Pierre want their money up front. So I said if this evaluation free of charge, why do you have Raymond and Pierre there? You should simply take it off. We don’t fully understand what is taking place, but they have shown me that I will be affected by this new highway,” Baney said.
Eighty-one-year-old Ramona Teelucksingh, also of Mon Desir, is unsure whether she will have to move or not.
“We don’t know if we have to move. If I say anything definite I would be lying. It’s 63 years since I have been living here and it isn’t something nice to have to move. But then again, if it is for development ... The family has to come together and discuss it. I have to consult with the children what we do. But here, everyone has that love for one another and having to go somewhere else, it’s like a child having to leave one school and go to another,” Teelucksingh admitted.