IN A BLATANT disregard of a trial before the High Court, the State failed to disclose that Cabinet decided last month to revoke a March 6, 2015 lease for land on which a Hindu mandir is built in Central Trinidad.
As Justice Frank Seepersad was about to deliver judgement yesterday, he was told the State had sent people last Friday to tell the pundit that the mandir and an adjoining ashram at Ganga Trace in Las Lomas, are to be desmolished. Both buildings have been serving the Hindu community since 2015 and are described as beautiful modern structures attended by scores of devotees.
Justice Seepersad expressed alarm that at the “twelfth hour,” the State was moving to bulldoze the mandir and ashram while a trial was engaging his attention. Despite such manner of governance, the judge said, while the court was called upon to adjudicate in the dispute, it was most shocking that Cabinet note dated March 6, 2015, granting a lease for the mandir, and last month’s Cabinet note dated February 14, revoking it, were not disclosed by the State at the trial.
The Las Lomas No 2 Devotional Ramayan Group sued the State in 2017 for failing to grant the deed of lease for an acre of land. Pundit Param Basdeo Maraj filed an affidavit saying the group never received a deed of lease. Over the years, the group constructed the mandir and ashram.
“The members ensured that it stands as a beautiful modern building, fully air-conditioned with cushion chairs and car park,” Maraj said. Seepersad was due to deliver his judgment yesterday though he did not have the Cabinet note granting the lease, nor the one rescinding it.
However, on Friday last, the State filed an application for the judge to grant an extension for further documents to be filed. One such document was an affidavit by attorney Nisa Simmons, of the State Solicitor General’s department.
Simmons said that on March 14, she received information from the chief solicitor general’s office that Cabinet note 317 of February 14, 2019, revokes the State’s decision to grant the lease. She also exhibited Cabinet note 563 dated March 12, 2015, granting the group a lease for 30 years.
Simmons further said in her affidavit that on Thursday last, Maraj’s attorney Alvin Pariagsingh told her people from the Commissioner of State Lands’ office visited Pundit Maraj and told him the structures were to be demolished the following day.
Yesterday, Seepersad made heavy weather of the State’s failure to disclose in the trial even the Cabinet minute of 2015 which granted the lease. “That Cabinet minute was by virtue of a decision to grant a lease which predated this action (Maraj’s lawsuit), which sought a declaration that there existed between the parties an agreement for a lease,” the judge said. He asked why, before Simmons’ application on Friday, the State had not also disclosed the February 14 Cabinet note revoking the lease.
“How can litigation involving the State be conducted in such a manner? It’s unacceptable, especially as these minutes would have been under the defendants’ control.” Seepersad adjourned the case to April 3 for further hearing.