Braving the scorching sun, placard-bearing residents of Cane Grove, East Coast Demerara, supported by members of the Alliance for Change (AFC), including Presidential Candidate, Khemraj Ramjattan, yesterday converged on the Brickdam lawn of the Ministry of Health, in an attempt to further raise their concerns of air pollution.
The decade-old dilemma comes as a direct result of the operation of a rice mill in the village which has caused residents to suffer over the years.
The mill is owned by Mr Fayuz Hack who, according to residents, has refused to put measures in place to address the problem despite their constant complaints.
The picketing exercise yesterday saw the involvement of both young and old residents, all of whom were united in the call to have an end be brought to the pollution problem.
Among the picketers yesterday was Mr Mackenlall Birbal who revealed that two of the most affected sections of Cane Grove are Coconut Dam and Estate. He shared a tale of dust affecting almost every aspect of residents’ daily activities, even as he showcased a plastic bag of dust, a fraction of the pollution that overwhelms the community on a daily basis.
“This dust does just affect your water, your food, your clothes, your appliances, everything.”
He revealed that the small children in the community as well as the housewives and the elderly are the most affected as most men are employed outside of the community and are therefore out for several hours.
His wife Nanrani Birbal, a housewife, said that the dust affects her considerably, adding that she cannot eat neither sleep in peace. “Me can’t bear this anymore…it is too much. This is just stressful to we…”
And there is not much that can be done to avoid the dust from overwhelming their daily existence. According to 10-year-old Daneka Basdeo, who attends the Virgina Primary School, the dust would often cause her skin to itch.
The itching, she disclosed, would usually intensify when she lies down to sleep at nights. Fourteen-year-old Doodnarine Balkisson of Hope Secondary School who was also among the picketers yesterday told this newspaper that even his efforts to complete school assignments and to study are affected since dust would usually find its way into his eyes.
“The mill should shut down because I can’t read or nothing when I come home. We need somebody to do something,” the young man said.
Ramjattan said that the residents have been living under the heavy environmental catastrophe for far too long. This is characterised by a combination of dust and noise pollution.
The AFC Presidential Candidate revealed that the owner of the rice mill was in fact ordered by the court to put in place equipment that would serve to vacuum the dust into a bin rather than into the open air, thereby creating the pollution effect.
“He has not done that although through a process of mediation he was ordered to do so. I am trying to get the court order so that we can bring a contempt proceeding against him.”
Moreover, the AFC has reached out to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to halt the operation of the rice mill until measures are put in place to arrest the existing situation.
He pointed out that the Government in the past had had cause to order Angel Rice, another rice milling company, to put in place the mechanisms to reduce air pollution.
“Mr Robert Badal had to bring in a very expensive piece of equipment. But it looks like there is favouritism here when it is a Robert Badal rice mill they want that to happen there but when it is one of their friends they are not implementing the laws and the Environmental Protection Agency Regulations in connection with Mr Hack.”
“We are saying that even the laws that we pass, this administration don’t want to enforce them against its friends.
They (residents) complained to us because they said they went to Jagdeo, Navin Chandarpal and even Donald Ramotar and these people were simply trying to cajole them into not going public with the issue.”
It was in recognition of this, Ramjattan, said that the residents were forced to turn to the AFC to intervene in their plight. He said that it was last Wednesday that he visited the area and saw firsthand how the residents are suffering.
“I decided that we have got to take it from here; we have got to do the petition and we have got to do the contempt proceedings. I intend to send petitions to the EPA and also to the Office of the President.”
The villagers, he said, had come out in their numbers during his visit at which point he had cautioned them that “your destiny is also in your hand; you have to take the fight and struggle and they said that they will.”
The collaboration between party and residents saw a decision being made for the commencement of the picket action outside of the Ministry of Health, in light of the fact that the pollution problem has been affecting residents’ health.
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