RADHICA DE SILVA
Days after Cedros villagers called on the authorities to protect the Chatham Forest Reserve from a suspected land grabber, more trees are being chopped down.
And although the suspected land grabber was told by the forest rangers to desist from building a house on the forest edge, the roof of the house went up over the weekend.
Villagers of Coromandel Village, Cedros are now demanding to know why the illegal land clearing has not stopped.
Residents say they were astonished to see continued construction of the house which is perched on an incline off Carlisle Road, Coromandel Village, Cedros.
Another villager who requested anonymity said, “We are certain that this man has no papers else he would have showed it to us a long time.”
Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat said the allegations were under investigation but councillor for the area Shankar Teelucksingh questioned why the authorities were dragging their feet in stopping the project.
He said, “We believe the Commissioner of State Lands should have stopped all forest clearance while the investigation is going on. Why is this continuing? Issue a stop notice now and this will be used when the matter goes to court to show that he was given the advice to stop but he has broken the law by continuing,” he said. He noted that the forests and mangroves are protected by the State.
“We want to know whether the State agencies responsible for protecting the State’s land assets are functional. Are they properly resourced and if not, why?” he added.
Teelucksingh said since Petrotrin closed down in 2018, land grabbers have been stealing acreages at Forest Reserve, Food Crop Road, Chatham and Greenhill Cedros. When Guardian Media visited the area off Bowen Trace, Coromandel, Spanish speaking workers were seen chopping down forest trees and shrubs. A fence made with tree trunks and lined with six rows of barbed wire was erected along Carlisle Trace.
Residents say wild animals were being displaced by the forest clearing.
An official of the EMA confirmed with Guardian Media that an investigation is ongoing. The EMA is expected to issue a statement on the matter.
Efforts yesterday to contact Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat and Commissioner of State Lands Banmattie Seecharan for comment proved futile.