Wallerfield farmers will meet with Housing Development Corporation and Commissioners of State Lands officials today to discuss an impasse over the state’s acquisition of land leased to farmers in that community.
The meeting has been called after police were called in by the HDC last Friday, after Wallerfield farmers were engaged in a standoff with a bulldozer operator after more than $200,000 worth of pumpkins was destroyed on arable lands being used to grow produce and rear livestock.
According to Goat and Sheep Farmers’ Association president Shiraz Khan, the four-acre parcel of land was leased to Bhola Singh and his son Anil Singh. During the incident, he accused the HDC of once again acting in bad faith, noting that a similar exercise was conducted in 2015 as they embarked on plans for a housing development in the area.
Questioning why the HDC was “being so wicked and hateful to farmers,” Khan said it was only last week that Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley visited several dairy farms and commended them for their positive contributions.
Khan said small farmers were being targeted and he urged them to ensure their leases were up to date.
Indicating that the Singhs’ lease had expired and a new application had been submitted for renewal, Khan said, “All of the farmers inside here have expired leases and what reason do you have for not wanting to renew them?”
He added, “You feel because it is State land you can come and do poor people what you want but it has got to stop. We are not going to accept this, the fight now start.”
Khan said Singh has been planting the land since 1952.
Anil Singh said they had been given no prior notice by the HDC, except for a brief visit from one man on Wednesday who informed them he would be coming to demolish the land. He said although a letter was written to the Commissioner of State Lands on Thursday informing them of the lease renewal application in 2018 and asking the authority to hold its hand until discussions were conducted, HDC officials appeared on Friday and got to work bulldozing the land very early.
Singh said repeated attempts to get the names of officials and their designations were unsuccessful as those present hid their company badges. He said the move had placed his family’s livelihood in jeopardy, as they depended solely on the income generated through farming to survive.
Confined to a wheelchair but looking forward to celebrating his birthday tomorrow (June 23), Bhola Singh said if the HDC wants the land to construct homes, they needed to fairly compensate the farmers. The family also rears livestock on the land as they produce milk for sale to Nestle.
In a statement yesterday, the HDC said it had arranged with the Commissioner of State Lands for a meeting with the licensees today to amicably resolve any issue with the lands. It added that it called in the police last Friday to keep law and order at the site but noted that there were no identifiable crops on the land which was bulldozed. The HDC also noted that it does not seize land from anybody and has no plans on seizing anybody’s land either.