Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) has fought many battles against the Environment Management Authority, EMA, for granting approvals for activities which impact on or endanger human health or the environment. Today, a community had victory, and justice was served.
A series of chicken farms were approved by the EMA in the the centre of the Piparo residential community in south Trinidad. The residents fought against the approval of one of these Certificates of Environmental Clearance (CEC's) and FFOS represented this community in a judicial review application of the CEC granted by the EMA.
FFOS together with another claimant from the impacted community argued that the decision of the defendant in question, the EMA, to grant a CEC to permit the establishment of a poultry farm at Thomas Ross Road was done "illegally" and was "procedurally improper … erred in law … abdicated its statutory duties" … and the defendant had acted "unreasonably and/or irrationally … in breach of the principles of natural justice, … in breach of a legitimate explanation and … failed to take into account material considerations".
In the High Court, the EMA's Joth Singh gave FFOS in writing, the promise to withdraw the CEC, to undertake and pay all reasonable legal costs incurred by the applicant, and to make "null and void and of no effect" the CEC previously granted at Thomas Ross Road, on the condition that FFOS withdraw its legal action.
Mrs Romona Hansraj, an active community organiser, stated "We in Piparo took a stand for our community and for all communities who feel that they have no rights … we fought for a breadth of fresh air ... now everybody can wake up and feel strong that if they stand up, they can change things for the betterment of all. Maybe now, the Government and the planning authorities would find suitable places for people to place their businesses where it would not hurt communities."
FFOS commends the Piparo community for its strength, determination, organisation and leadership, and are proud to associate with strong and determined citizens.
We also commend Minister of Local Government Dr Suruj Rambachan for putting this issue on the front burner and advocating strongly for the rights of the residents of Piparo.
This action has undoubtedly taught the community of Piparo, and the public at large, that there is justice in Trinidad and Tobago if communities stand up and together. The EMA must be commended for admitting that it was wrong in initially granting the CEC and in withdrawing it.
This victory has shown us that all people must take strength to challenge any Government agency whose decisions are improper and not in the public interest.
We now move our struggle over to the residents of Cunupia where a community is being destroyed by an illegally built concrete-making facility.
We urge all our social justice, trade union and political comrades that are currently in arms because of the Section 34 fiasco to join us and fight for a cause that will demonstrate that these concerns are not just politically driven but socially motivated. FFOS is of the opinion that the suffering of entire communities are more important than an issue that can only be resolved in 2015, (an election year).
We remain, apolitical and forever yours in sustainable and inclusionary development.
Gary Aboud and