While there are no immediate plans to remove Lamaha Street embankment residents in the absence of an official policy on that issue, persons living on government reserves in Sophia and on the East Bank of Demerara are required to move by month end.
Minister of Housing and Water Harrinarine Nawbatt told Stabroek News last week that although his ministry is not considering at present the relocation of residents along the former train line parallel to Lamaha Street they should not feel as if they can remain there indefinitely.
This may be like a reprieve for several railway embankment residents, some of whom have been living there for decades. They have been hearing various reports about their impending relocation but there has been no direct official approach.
Nawbatt was speaking with Stabroek News at Parliament Buildings following a meeting of local parliamentarians with their Canadian counterparts who were visiting Guyana under the auspices of the Common-wealth Parliamentary Associ-ation. He said persons squatting on the Lamaha Canal embankment in Sophia are being relocated. “We have given all of them notices to remove by the end of January,” the minister stated.
He said there were some 165 persons living there according to their last investigation. Forty-four of them were allocated house lots in Sophia.
The minister emphasized that everyone would have to remove, even those for whom lots had not been found. “We do not want to go there and remove them but they are occupying grounds which we need to do drainage works. Because if we do not do that, (when) the rains come they would all be flooded.” The reserves are there for particular purposes such as roads or drainage.
Ruimveldt to Grove
Noting that it was not only residents of Sophia who where being urged to leave but also those on the East Bank of Demerara from Ruimveldt to Grove, he said these persons were informed last November that they have been occupying reserves. Some of the East Bank squatters have been allocated lots at Tuschen, Parfait Harmonie and Belle West. They would have to pay the normal fee of $92,000 plus $8,000 for the legal process.
The Ministry of Public Works and Communication in a notice in the press in November warned that it was continuing the campaign to clear all obstructions from the East Coast Demerara and East Bank Demerara public roads, from property to property line on both sides of the roadways. The notice further stated that the campaign would be extended to all other public roads, including those on the West Coast of Demerara and in Region Six.
Clearance of all obstructions, according to the notice, includes removal of deposits of white sand, loam, earth, wood, refuse, construction debris, rubbish, scrap metal, ironmongery and derelict vehicles.
With regard to structures, the notice stated, the ministry would remove constructions or erections inclusive of buildings, shacks, tents, vending stalls, fences, signs and signboards.
Officials at the ministry, however, reported having heard some grumbling about the issue of persons occupying the railway embankment but could not provide concrete information on what the policy was toward them.
The Mayor and City Council (M&CC) recently embarked on a programme to remove encumbrances. How-ever the programme does not have as one of its targets the removal of persons on the Lamaha Street railway embankment.
There have been discussions about the issue in terms of World Cup Cricket, a source said, but the Council has not addressed the issue as it would have to be debated at the level of the M&CC.
The residents of the railway embankment or line top themselves remain in the dark as to what is going to be the outcome for them. Persons have been occupying the line top for an average of 21 years.
Attempts to relocate
Several of them reported having made attempts to relocate on their own through the Ministry of Housing but have been stalled in the process. Joel Kirpaul, an 18-year resident of the Turkeyen line top said he visited the ministry some four years ago after receiving a call from the agency but since then he has not heard anything. Resident of the Turkeyen embankment for the last 12 years, Rosita Hutson told a similar story.
The proprietor of Sonalall Mechanical Workshop, a popular mechanic shop on the Turkeyen embankment, said he could recall when the area that now serves as a public roadway was just a footpath and the railway line used that route. A 20-year line top veteran, he advocated that they be allowed to live there because in his opinion they make the stretch of road secure. To support his statement the man said he personally witnessed various incidents where he resides. He referred to an accident where he assisted the victims by getting them out of a nearby trench after their car had rolled in there. Further west on the portion of railway embankment that runs parallel to Lamaha Street, Shanta Lochan too has been seeking to obtain a house lot without any result. “I’ve been looking for a house lot since 2004 without success,” said Lochan who has been living there for several years. She said she was informed that when the authorities were ready they would be notified.
“There are big rumours but we are still living here better than other squatters – we have water and electricity,” she said. She recalled a meeting held with officials connected to Cricket World Cup where they were asked to keep their surroundings clean and to get rid of old zinc. They were also promised whitewash for the fences. The whitewash is yet to arrive. Tailor and 48-year resident of the Lamaha railway embankment, Joseph K. Ramkilawan told Stabroek News that he hopes he can get a phone line. He too has been hearing rumours but his daily existence at the moment meant more to him than continued talk about residents having to relocate. “I am hustling to make a daily bread. They (the authorities) can say what they want to say – when the time comes then we would do what we have to. As I have said before persons have been living here since 1968 when the trains stopped.”
Some residents have set up small businesses on the plots they occupy. One such resident said, “I do not want to move because this location is close to everything – the distance in terms of transportation from school and the hospital are close by.”
The woman feels they should be given the option to keep the land with the condition that they keep the place clean. She, too, referred to the meeting Lochan mentioned where residents were encouraged to spruce up their plots.
The woman who along with her husband runs a small business said that they have been there for 11 years. She wondered whether they would be relocated to areas with proper infrastructure and access to educational institutions for her children and medical facilities. “We are moving from light and water to areas where you got to start all over again,” she lamented.
“It’s a long time we have been hearing about relocation but nothing ever happens. My wife went into housing (applied for a house lot at the ministry) since 1992 but nothing happened,” her husband recalled.
Twice, they said, officials from the ministry took information from them and were told of their attempts to get a house lot through the proper channels but to no avail. “But if we got to move what are we going to do?” he asked.
Jagdeo Singh and Samantha Thomas who are neighbours with individual lot numbers on the Lamaha railway embankment have differing views from some of the other residents. They both said they would be willing to relocate if offered house lots. As a parent Singh is concerned that his children could be affected by the poor hygienic surroundings.
Also a resident of the Lamaha railway embankment, Lizzy Gathers noted that she was in possession of a house lot at Diamond but cannot afford to build at the moment.
Moreover, the various conveniences such as proximity to her children’s school and
work would be affected by having to relocate.