The owners of a sawmill in Rio Claro have been given the green light to sue the Conservator of Forests over a decision to temporarily suspend its licence and seize a quantity of lumber, which was suspected of being stolen.
On Thursday, High Court Judge Margaret Mohammed granted Vishnudath and Omawatee Kamchand leave to pursue their judicial review case, in which they are claiming that the State offical acted unfairly and unreasonably in taking the decisions against their business First Class Sawmill and Lumber Yard Limited.
According to their court filings, which were obtained by Guardian Media, the couple claim that, in late June, a forest ranger visited their business and requested an inspection.
Vishnudath attempted to reschedule the inspection for the following day but the officer returned with two police officers and entered the property.
The couple claimed that the ranger told them that he was investigating a report that they had teak logs which were improperly obtained
After he found no teak logs during the search, the ranger questioned the legitimacy of appamate, cedar, and mahogany that was stored on the compound and seized the sawmill’s records.
When the ranger returned with colleagues the following day, Vishnudath took them to an area of his 22-acre estate where he claimed the lumber was harvested.
The ranger allegedly challenged his claims and after a telephone conversation with his superiors, informed the Kamchands that their license would be temporarily suspended.
Over a two week period, the rangers returned to the property and seized the lumber.
In July, Vishnudath was issued with summons to appear in court to answer a charge under the Sawmill Act for failing to keep proper records.
He was also informed that the oral suspension had been rescinded and that he would have to make an application to have the lumber returned, which was done and is still pending.
In the lawsuit, the couple’s lawyers are contending that the temporary suspension was disproportionate in the circumstances
“Even if the Intended Defendant came to the finding that the Intended Claimants were in breach of some provision of law, it would not be a proportionate exercise of power to suspend the entirety of the Intended Claimants’ commercial operations for a period of time,” their lawyer Karina Singh said, as she claimed that the couple should have been allowed to make representations before the decision was made
Singh also claimed that the State offical failed to abide by the provisions of the Forests Act as no timely reports were laid before a Magistrate regarding the seizure.
“The intended claimants will contend that this report to the Magistrate is the initial step in the institution of forfeiture proceedings for the seizure of goods made under the Forests Act,” Singh said.
Through the lawsuit, the couple is seeking damages for the losses their business suffered during the suspension period
The lawsuit is expected to come up for hearing, later this year.
The couple is also being represented by Jagdeo Singh Kiel Taklalsingh and Stefan Ramkissoon.