A group of cattle farmers from Rampoor Village, Blairmont, West Bank Berbice, has filed a lawsuit against the Mahaica-Mahaicony-Abary Agricultural Development Authority, (MMA/ADA) ; a State Board challenging a decision to prevent their occupation of communal lands in the area.
In recent years, the State Board has been hit with series of lawsuits related to their management of lands.
In this case, a group of eight cattle farmers led by Pooran Balmukund, the applicant are seeking several relief orders from the Court in relation to the possession and usage 1360 acres of grazing grounds located at a place commonly known as “Rampoor Lands.”
In his application, Balmukund explained that he and his associates, all parties to the matter, are cattle farmers who have been in occupation, control and possession of 1360 acres of State for over 20 years.
According to the document, the group used the lands to graze, pasture and accommodate 650 head of cattle.
The farmer said during the time, he and his colleagues expended huge sums of money to fence a large portion of the said lands and over the years continued to expend millions to upkeep the lands with proper drainage and irrigation.
The farmer said further that millions of dollars was spent for the erection of buildings and structures to house the cattle and a dwelling house for the rearers, while they are on the said lands.
“To date, these structures are still on the said lands and continue to be maintained and upkept by the applicants. Cattle rearing and the selling of milk produced there from is the only source of income of the applicants all of whom have families for which they are the sole breadwinners.”
It continued that for over two decades, the application noted that the farmers have been in occupation of the lands, uninterrupted by the respondent,(MMA/ADA) or anyone else.
“However in 2011, the affidavit in support of the document, noted that a number of rice farmers attempted to enter portions of the land for the purpose of cultivating rice.”
“A dispute arose over the attempt since naturally, rice cultivation would have immeasurably affected the use of the land for rearing and grazing their cattle,” Balmukund said in the affidavit.
He noted that as a result of the dispute between the rearers and the rice farmers there was an intervention by the then Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Robert Persaud, and then President Donald Ramotar.
The farmer claimed that a decision was subsequently taken for the pastures to continue to be used exclusively for cattle rearing and that the farmers’ occupation would be regularized.
“Thereafter, the farmers were invited by the respondent to several meetings to discuss regularisation of their occupation of the said lands.
A decision was taken that the applicants were to form themselves into a co-operative society in accordance with the Co-operative Societies Act and that a lease would have been issued in the name of the said co-operative society.
In this regard, several community meetings were held by officers of the Board, including, Mr. Aubrey Charles, the current General Manager and the then Chairman…”
During this period, Balmukund said that Charles issued a memorandum in writing stating et al that the lands shall be used as common grazing grounds, and rice cultivation shall not be permitted.
He added that it was at this time that the farmers were further promised by officers and/or agents of the respondent that a lease would eventually be granted to them for the said lands.
Balkumund said that the farmers, however, never completed the process themselves into a co-operative society.
“As a result, they were invited by the Agricultural Board to submit individual applications for leases for the land and they were promised that the leases will make provision for communal occupation,” Balkumund added
He noted that the process has since been stalled but they kept applying almost annually for the leases.
However on January 18, 2018, the farmer noted that the Board wrote, informing them that their permission to occupy the lands was rescinded and that they were required to deliver vacant possession of the grounds by January 25,, 2019.
Ballkumund contends that they were not informed by anyone that the MMA/ADA was considering rescinding their permission to occupy before nor were they given an opportunity to be heard before the decision.
He said they also learnt of a decision by the Board to reallocate portions of the land to unknown individuals in the same locality.
Describing that the decision to reallocate the land to strangers to the land is arbitrary, capricious, discriminatory, unreasonable, unfair, made in bad faith, the applicant is seeking a number of reliefs including a declaration that the cattle farmers are entitled to a lease, licence and/or permission to occupy the State lands.
The group therefore wants a Court Order to quash any decision made by the MMA/ADA to grant leases, licences or permission to occupy any third party in respect of a portion of land and an Order compelling the MMA/ADA to issue them leases and/or licence in accordance with law for State lands.
The farmers are also seeking injunctions to restrain the MMA/ADA from processing, allocating or issuing any other lease, licence or with interfering with their peaceful enjoyment and occupation of the State land.
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