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Foul play in fowl-farm battle

By Kim Boodram

"It's hard to imagine that people are living under this kind of duress right here in Trinidad and no one seems to care."

This was the complaint of Piparo housewife Debbie Ramona Hansraj who was last week beaten for her leading role in a neighbourhood fight against illegal chicken farms in her area.

Hansraj now sports a shaven head, after receiving six stitches two Saturdays ago, when she found herself in a physical confrontation with one of the owners of a neighbouring farm.

Hansraj and her husband, Luke, who was also beaten, were filming one of the illegal farms in operation when they were attacked.

The couple were on their property at the time, when the farm owner and a male companion ran towards them. On reaching Debbie Hansraj, the owner began to beat her about the head with a piece of wood.

The attacker's male companion also assaulted Luke Hansraj with a piece of iron piping, leaving him with a large cut on the jaw.

The victims' son, Dominic Hansraj, who has just returned from work, ran to his parents' assistance and was attacked by the man with a piece of steel.

"Myself, my husband and my son could have been killed over this issue and right now, the people of this neighbourhood feel as if they have nowhere to turn for help," Hansraj said.

Speaking to the Express at their Arch Street home last week with a group of neighbours present, Hansraj said the neighbourhood was being "bullied" into giving up the fight against a growing number of large poultry farms that have continued to operate in violation of fines and orders from the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) to conform to certain terms.

Other residents said they live in fear, as many have had their lives threatened for their attempts to close the farms.

The neighbourhood group is hoping to have the farms shut down completely, citing an unbearable stench, a corbeaux infestation and heightened allergic reactions to dust and feathers that make their way into homes.

Some of the farm owners are also dumping dead chickens and entrails in a nearby empty lot, they said, also adding to the stench and the visits by hundreds of corbeaux.

During a visit by the Express on Sunday, the stench was pervasive and on the street, fat corbeaux hopped about, some fighting over rotting meat.

Appeals for help to the MP for the area, Nela Khan , have gone unheeded, they said.

Khan has also failed to respond since last year to repeated attempts by the Express for a comment.

Up to Sunday, one week after the beating, shocked residents said they were yet to be visited by the Princes Town police but on making a report on the day of the incident, the victims were told by the police that theirs was a "land dispute" and did not warrant police attention.

Contacted yesterday, the farm owner accused of beating Debbie Hansraj denied instigating the attack. The owner is also seeking legal advice.

The Express was told last week by the Princes Town police that there was no way to tell how the situation will be handled.

The residents now intend to make a report to the Police Complaints Authority and are hoping to engage the attention of its director, Gillian Lucky.

In the meantime, the suspension two weeks ago of the Environmental Commission, a President-appointed body, leaves the EMA paralysed to deal with situations such as this, EMA CEO, Dr Joth Singh, said yesterday.

Singh said the fines and compliance orders issued to the illegal farms have been challenged by some of the offenders. These challenges will have to be heard by the commission, which is without a body until newly-appointed President Anthony Carmona appoints its new members.

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