THE Housing Development Company (HDC) says it is not at war with farmers.
Managing director Brent Lyons made the statement during a news conference at the HDC’s office in Port of Spain on Monday.
The HDC is being accused of bullying after it went to clear a 4.5 acre parcel of land at Wallerfield which 72-year-old dairy farmer, Buller Singh, said he had rights to cultivate for 30 years. Singh said the workers destroyed about $200,000 worth of crops.
Lyons said when HDC workers started clearing the land, on the fringes of the Jacob Hill, Demerara Heights development on Friday, they were stopped by Singh who has been using a wheelchair since suffering a stroke. Singh showed the workers a licence which he was given to use the land. Although the licence was expired since 2018, Lyons said workers immediately stopped clearing the land and contacted the Commissioner of State Lands. He said there were no identifiable crops on the land.
“The mandate of the HDC is to provide low and middle income homes for deserving citizens of TT,” Lyons said.
“When searching for available land to provide housing, the HDC identifies land, and calls the Commissioner of State Lands to see if it is available. Based on what was provided to us, it was state land.”
But Shiraz Khan, speaking on behalf of Singh and his family, called the HDC a bully and claimed it attempted to bulldoze the land before.
“In 2009, the HDC attempted to bulldoze that very piece of land. We fought against it. They claim that it is state land, but it is assigned to somebody. The HDC is being dishonest.”
Khan said, contrary to what the HDC claims, the land was being used by Singh to grow grass for cows, pumpkin and parsley. He added that the land was leased by Singh since 1973 and and when the licence expired, an application for renewal was made and is pending before the Commissioner of State Lands.
“That does not give them that authority to seize the land. I will show documents and I want them to come and take the land if they so bad. This is utter wickedness. There is so much empty land all over the country, why build houses in La Horquetta now?”
Lyons told reporters the Singh family was on Monday talking with the Commissioner of State Lands to reach an amicable solution to the situation.
“I want to make it clear that we are not at war with any farmer or anyone in the agricultural sector. “Notwithstanding, HDC has photos and footage of the land. We are willing to examine any evidence they have, and we look forward to information about the results coming out of the meeting. If it is decided that we would not have access to the land, we will be so guided.”