The livelihood of a farmer, who says he has been planting for 33 years on a portion of government’s reserve in front of his home, has been disrupted by the widening of the Railway Embankment Road project.
At the end of March, the Ministry of Public Infrastructure (MPI), began extension and widening works on a section of the Turkeyen Railway Embankment Road on the East Coast of Demerara, in a bid to curb the traffic congestion generated at the Giftland Mall.
In order to execute the project within the vicinity of the Giftland Mall junction, the portion of government reserve which was being cultivated by Lallman Ramnarine, 54, was required.
Speaking to Stabroek News during a recent interview, Ramnarine related that in early January he received a letter from the Public Infrastructure Ministry informing him of the project.
“Three individuals came from public works and gave me a letter, and they tell me that they would take 10 feet from the reserve, and I can continue to plant behind that 10 feet. I said alright, but when they start this work they cleared off everything,” Ramnarine recalled.
However, the farmer said that so far he has observed the construction is taking
up the entire plot of the reserve, leaving him with little hope of farming the land once the construction is completed.
“From ten feet, I see they advance right away round and come to use this drain I dig (pointing to the drain). So it look like if they using up this entire stretch,” he said.
Prior to the construction, Ramnarine said he had beds of “poi bajie, boulanger, I had some mustard and pak choy, callaloo, peppers, two pomegranate trees, two lemon trees and ochro trees on the land.” The crops he said were all destroyed and only “two banana suckers” were left standing. During the land clearing exercise, Ramnarine lamented that the workers removed and discarded the fertile soil which was used in his garden.
According to Ramnarine, for the past 33 years he has been cultivating the land with cash crops, retailing the produce on the corner of the road and supporting his family with the proceeds. He explained that he began to farm the reserve, after persons who had been living there were removed in order for rehabilitation works in the area.
“When they move the people to build the road, the land was abandon and I begin to cultivate it. I dig drains and developed it to be fertile and start to plant cash crops,” he pointed out. Ramnarine added, “I wasn’t working, so I said man, make use of the land and meh start plant bora and ochro and so meh planting all the years on that land.”
While reiterating that the land had provided for his family, Ramnarine noted that many persons, including those in Government, the opposition, the diplomatic corps and individuals in high offices, along with the ordinary man, had supported him over the years. One of the many notable figures he recalled frequenting his stall was Sita Nagamootoo, the wife of Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo.
“People used to pass by and buy. I used the money to take care of my family, invest in a few cows so I could get manure to have an organic garden and pay bills. It was our survival and it was what I mek my living on,” Ramnarine recalled.
Asked if he was offered any compensation by the ministry, Ramnarine responded in the negative. He stated that he didn’t approach them for any compensation since he is cognizant of the fact that he was occupying the government’s reserve and had to give it up when it was needed. While he does not have any objections with the road project, he is now forced to find alternative means to provide for his family.
“As it is the cows that I have are giving milk and I am selling that, but not every day you would get milk from cows. And I am thinking to go search [for] a job as a security guard. I still have two children to send to school,” he commented.
Meanwhile, the Department of Public Information on June 1st on their Info Hub telecast reported that the project is being executed by BK International at a cost of $60 million.
In the same report, Kester Hinds, the Traffic, Safety and Maintenance Manager at the MPI, explained that the scope of work entails widening of the road to facilitate turning lanes and through lanes.
“So, for persons who are going in the eastern direction on the railway embankment, they would not be interrupted by those persons who are going to make a right turn to the mall,” he said.
He further explained, “Persons who want to go in the western direction and make a left turn to the mall, there would be a slip lane which would allow them to go into the through lane.”
In the Info Hub report, Hinds also pointed out that there would a similar widening project at the junction of the Railway Embankment Road and the University of Guyana Road.