Hope Coconut Estate withdraws proceedings against rice farmers over tripling of rental fees

Attorney at law Anil Nandlall (in suit) with some of the aggrieved rice farmers shortly after the legal proceedings against them were withdrawn yesterday. Also in the photo (second from right) is PPP/C Member of Parliament Dharamkumar Seeraj.

Legal proceedings instituted against 18 rice farmers who had refused to accept the tripling of the rental fee for land they occupy were yesterday withdrawn by the Hope Coconut Estate Limited during a hearing before the Rice Assessment Committee at the Cove and John Magistrate’s Court.

The attorney for the farmers, Anil Nandlall, later described the conclusion of the matter as a victory.

A few months ago similar proceedings against another group of rice farmers were dismissed.

Nandlall noted that the company, which leased plots of rice lands to the farmers at Hope Estate, on the East Coast of Demerara, had summoned them to court, claiming an increase in the rental fee. It also sought to repossess their land.

He explained that both on the last occasion, October 26th, and yesterday, he rais-ed several objections to the proceedings filed, saying they were “incurably bad.”

The attorney added that he requested either that the company withdraw the proceedings or that the Rice Assessment Committee dismiss them. The company opted to withdraw the proceedings, he said.

In February, Girjadai Changa was part of a large group of farmers who were threatening to take legal action if the new charge was imposed or any attempt was made to evict them from the land. The farmer occupies 20 acres of land.

He had received a Summons from the Committee instructing him to attend court for an investigation pertaining to rent to be certified in arrears, payment of arrears and repossession of rice land.

Changa had explained that he was now being asked to pay a fee of $15,000 for each acre. He had recalled that in 2015, the rental fee was $3,000 per acre. The following year, it was increased to $5,000 and in 2017 the company announced a new fee of $15,000. He had contended that the new charges were not affordable and that two protest actions held were not fruitful.

More than a dozen rice farmers were each issued with a ‘Notice to quit,’ which was signed by Omadatt Chandan, the attorney for the Ministry of Agriculture. According to one such notice, which was sent to farmer Khemchan Sukhlall, notice was given to “quit and deliver possession of the premises of 16 acres of rice land at (Nooten Zuil)… for non-payment of rent for the period January 2017 – December 2017.”

According to the notice, which was dated January 16th, 2018, Sukhlall was given one month to deliver possession of the land.

Nandlall had penned a letter to the attorney on behalf of the farmers indicating that the process for increasing their rent has not been followed.

In his letter, which was dated February 6th, 2018, Nandlall had indicated to Chandan that the lands in question fall under the jurisdiction of the Rice Farmers (Security of Tenure) Act, which provides a process by which rent can be increased and rice lands can be repossessed. “The purpose of this Act is to provide a regime of security of tenure for tenant-rice farmers. 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 wrote.

Aside from the rice farmers, persons rearing cattle and planting cash crops also occupy parcels of land at the Hope location.

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