THE SERVING of eviction notices on residents in the path of the planned Curepe interchange this week triggered concerns over whether the State was acting in haste and possibly breaching citizens’ rights. The notices provoked dramatic threats of legal action, including by St Augustine MP Prakash Ramadhar, and the intervention of Works Minister Rohan Sinanan who defended the State’s conduct. Fortunately, all appear to have come to an amicable settlement following a meeting on Wednesday.
Still, the lesson to be learned is that while all must respect the letter of the law, the law must always be executed in as compassionate and as fair a manner as possible by the State, especially when it comes to something as sacred as homeownership. While residents were up in arms over the serving of the notices, it is clear the State has the power to do so under the Land Acquisition Act.
Section 4 clearly states, “The President may, if satisfied that the circumstances of the case justify such action, issue an order authorising the commissioner, without waiting for the formal vesting of the land in the State under Section 5, to take possession of the land and apply it for any purpose connect.”
Parliament in its wisdom gave the State the power to take hold of property even before the formal process of vesting. Furthermore, when it comes to compensation, Section 12 of the act envisions a procedure whereby a party may ask a judge to assess payment taking into account the fair value of the land “at the date of the taking of possession of the land.”
There is no doubt that the State does not have to wait for the process of vesting and compensation to be complete if it wishes to put the land to use for any public purpose. At the same time, if the State has commenced a negotiating process in which residents have been participating in good faith one would expect a more humane and reasonable approach.
Land acquisition is one of the most extreme instances of State power. It is only natural to assume that people would be allowed time to garner the resources needed to effect a move to a new abode. Such resources, in theory, would naturally include the State’s compensation for the acquired property. And if assurances over a specific timeline were made or implied it would also be reasonable to expect the State to hold its hands in the exercise of its powers to allow the negotiation process to come to an end.
What this week’s settlement demonstrates is the need for careful communication. Though the State has certain powers and prerogatives, it cannot ride roughshod over the rights of citizens. It must be especially humane when it comes to evictions or else risk undermining confidence in the authorities.