Felicity farmer goes to court for Caroni lands

File photo
File photo

A FELICITY farmer has received the court’s permission to challenge the failure by the Commissioner of State Lands to renew her tenancy agreement for 1.25 acres of agriculture lands that belonged to the former Caroni (1975) Ltd.

On Tuesday, Bissundai Rampersad was granted leave by Justice Kevin Ramcharan to pursue her judicial review claim against the commissioner, the chief executive officer of Caroni (1975) Ltd and the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture.

She is represented by attorney Richard Jagessar.

In her lawsuit, Rampersad said she believes she is entitled to a renewed tenancy agreement and the refusal of the commissioner to approve it was not in keeping with the legitimate expectation created by the authorities nor in keeping with their statutory responsibility.

She said she entered into a five-year lease agreement with Caroni in March 1999. She said the lease was renewed when Caroni continued to accept rent from 2005 to the present. Rampersad’s lawsuit said she applied to renew her lease agreement before it expired but there was no official form to do so and continued to cultivate the land while also paying her rent.

In 2009, Caroni conducted a regularisation exercise and Rampersad said she filled out the requisite information and paid all her fees. In 2020, she made a request for a copy of her lease tenancy agreement under the Freedom of Information Act or to get a status of the renewed lease but is yet to receive any information and is still without a renewed lease agreement.

Last September, the lawsuit said the Land Settlement Agency destroyed acres of agricultural lands in the Felicity area and when farmers complained, they were told there was no record of lawful farmers in that area.

Rampersad said she is part of that farmer’s group which occupied lands in the area and feared that her crops could also be destroyed.

Her lawsuit also said a pre-action protocol letter was sent by her attorney to Caroni and she was told that the company did not have any request from the commissioner relating to her lands.

“To date, I have not received any word or update from the State agencies. I feel as though they intend to ignore me completely,” her court document said, adding that it was unreasonable for the authorities to not update their records and provide her with a renewed lease while granting long-term leases to other farmers and removing others in her area.

Her lawsuit contends that the State has created a legitimate expectation that if she complied with all the requests and met the criteria she would receive her renewed lease agreement based on the law. It also says the authority vested with the power to review leases was the commissioner or Caroni (1975) Ltd and the ministry has always been in the process of randomly handing out land tenure documents.

“This created a legitimate expectation in my mind that one day I would be called to collect my renewed lease,” Rampersad’s lawsuit said.

She is asking the court for an order compelling Caroni to respond to her requests for information; an order compelling the commissioner to process her lease renewal request and an order compelling the commissioner to issue a tenure document/ deed of lease for her land.

The matter will again come up for hearing on April 11.

On Monday, scores of ex-Caroni workers protested in front of Brechin Castle Estate in Couva, calling on Government to give lands owed to them as part of their Voluntary Separation of Employment Package (VSEP) since the company’s closure in 2003.

Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat is reported as saying Government was working to uphold its promise to distribute Caroni lands to former workers in accordance with their VSEP.

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