– as legal advice tendered; farmers prepared to fight – NDIA also moves against farmers in default
In one of a series of moves against persons involved in the agricultural sector, the Government has given notice of its intention to repossess land being leased by a number of farmers at Hope Estate, East Coast Demerara (ECD), for falling behind in their rent.
In a letter seen by Guyana Times, farmers were instructed by Attorney-at-Law and Guyana Marketing Corporation (GMC) Chairman Omadatt Chandan to “quit and deliver possession” of their land. However, these farmers and their legal representatives are taking a stand against it. In one case, Khemchan Sukhlall, a tenant of De Hoop, Mahaica, ECD, was ordered to hand over 16 acres of rice land situated at Nutenzuil – all within one month of receiving the notice. The notice, dated January 16, 2018, was signed by Chandan who identified himself as an agent of Hope Estate Coconut Industries Ltd. It is understood that a number of other farmers, including Subhan Ally, Lolita Gangaram and Kowsilla Ramgobin will be affected. Attorney-at-Law Anil Nandlall, who is representing Sukhlall and had visited the farmers alongside fellow Member of Parliament, Head of the Rice Producers Association (RPA), Dharamkumar Seeraj, issued a warning in a letter responding to the Agriculture Ministry that the farmers were protected by the Rice Farmers (Security of Tenure) Act. Section Five (1d) stipulates that a notice to evict cannot be issued outside what the Act permits. Nandlall, a former Attorney General, informed the Ministry that he instructed the farmers to ignore the notice since the law gives them a regime of security of tenure. He informed the Ministry that its letter was not only premature and precipitous, but it flew in the face of the Act. “In short, rents chargeable for rice lands cannot be increased and a tenant of rice lands cannot be removed from possession except by the procedures outlined by the Act. We are not aware that any such procedures have been initiated or undertaken,” Nandlall stated. Nandlall further explained to this publication that these farmers have been in possession of the land for several years. These lands, he noted, provide the only source of livelihood for them and their families.
“We have advised the tenant rice farmers to ignore the demand and to remain in possession of the lands. I am prepared to institute legal action if there is any interference with our clients’ right to quiet and peaceful enjoyment of these lands,” Nandlall related.
NDIA Meanwhile, the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA)has made moves of its own, albeit in a notice published on February 11, 2018 instructing farmers with outstanding drainage and irrigation fees to make payments within 21 days. The NDIA is contending that members of the Water Users Association (WUA) are behind in fees for the supply of irrigation water from the main systems the agency operates. It also expressed concerns that they were not paying as they should for NDIA’s maintenance of drainage channels and operation of pumps from the main system. “Under those circumstances, the NDIA is kindly requesting that defaulting farmers with outstanding fees make payments within 21 days of this notice. Failure to pay your fees will result in the WUA imposing sanctions and penalties.” Referring throughout its notice to the by-laws of the WUA, the NDIA went on to warn that these would include but not be limited to taking away farmers’ voting rights within the WUA and cutting services to defaulting members. It was only recently that some 20 farmers on the East Coast of Berbice, Region Six (East Berbice-Corentyne) were left in urgent need of water for their rice fields, which were cracking. This newspaper was informed that the farmers’ plight is as a result of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) shutting off the water supply. The rice industry has fallen on hard times. In 2016, the Government in a well-touted deal had arranged to export rice to Mexico. The Agriculture Ministry subsequently disclosed that 17,000 tonnes of paddy were shipped to Mexico in a deal said to be worth some US$17 million ($3 billion), and 43,000 tonnes more will be shipped to the Central American country over the next few months. However, the days of farmers getting premium rates for their paddy have since passed, following the end of the PetroCaribe (rice-for-oil) deal which was cancelled by Venezuela in 2015.
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