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Sat denies Tobago Hindu temple row

London: Two groups vying for same land from THA

By Camille Bethel

In 2009, Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Orville London promised Hindus living on the sister island money and land for the construction of Tobago's first Hindu temple.

Four years later, the land is yet to be handed over.

In a telephone interview last week, London told the Sunday Express the reason the THA has failed to deliver on its promise to Hindus in Tobago stems from a dispute between two Hindu organisations, and not at the level of the THA.

He said, "The facts are that the executive council made a decision and leases were either prepared or were about to be prepared for the land to be handed over to a Hindu organisation.

"When it was about to happen there was a dispute between two organisations. The challenge came because when we were about to hand over the lands another Hindu organisation challenged the decision.

"There was a split between this group and the parent organisation and the legal advice that we have is until the situation is resolved, we cannot hand over the land because then we will become party to that conflict so it has nothing to do with us."

London added that although the land was there and the THA was ready to hand it over it could not do this until the dispute is resolved.

"The commitment on the part of the THA has been met, the land has been identified, the executive council decision has been made. We, in a sense, still do not know who the land should be leased to.

It is really about the organisations getting their act together and then we would be able to treat with it," he said.

Speaking with the Sunday Express, Pulwaty Holass Beepath, president of the Tobago Hindu Society—one of the groups involved in the dispute—said the issue was between her group and secretary general of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS), Satnarayan Maharaj, over who should be given the land for the temple.

"He caused this to happen, so right now the lawyers are trying to get Sat Maharaj to come to a decision to allow us to get the lands. He has no representation in Tobago but he is not budging at all to let the people of Tobago get what they want. We need him to back down because it is the only way we can move forward," she told the Sunday Express.

"The people in Tobago are very upset about the land (for the temple) at Carnbee which was bought with our hard-earned money and after a while we had the dispute with him because we still wanted to get the permission to build the temple at Carnbee but he blocked us off the land."

Beepath said London told them to apply for State land and the THA would assist in getting the lands to build the temple.

She said the core membership of the Society ranges between 15 to 20 people but there are more than 100 Hindus living in Tobago.

In 2010, when they had the dispute with Maharaj, they applied for the land but when they were about to get the land she said Maharaj called and asked her to resign.

"I really wanted the lands for the people of Tobago but he wanted the land. We had a meeting with our members of the Hindu society and decided that we should register our body as the Tobago Hindu Society and have a voice of our own because he was asking me to resign, when we are the people living in Tobago and everything was being done from my home address, because there is no Maha Sabha office in Tobago," she said.

Beepath said although Maharaj was talking about race in Tobago, "we have no race here in Tobago".

She said, "Everybody live here and work together in peace and harmony and if he just say that he wants no part here in Tobago we would be able to get this land. He is preventing everything from happening."

However, Maharaj yesterday denied he was the one responsible for the land dispute and instead accused the THA of attempting to divide and conquer in the distribution of the land for the temple.

He said, "The THA is trying to fabricate events. Many years ago, I am talking about four, five years ago, we were a united group in Tobago and we bought lands.

"There was even a function to lay the foundation stone and to hand us a cheque of $250,000. The then minister of culture, Joan Yuille-Williams, was there, the function was about to begin and then they got a call from the THA saying that permission had not been given to build a temple there because it was a residential area.

"This is verifiable, and we objected on the grounds that there was a Pentecostal church about four doors away from where we were building. Now the THA is attempting to divide and get out of the problem."

Maharaj said it did not matter who got the lands for the temple as long as the temple was built, but also pointed out that the Maha Sabha had applied as a national organisation incorporated by an Act of Parliament for a parcel of land at Signal Hill and the THA had promised to give the Maha Sabha a half-acre of land at Signal Hill to build a temple, but never did.

"Give it to anybody so long as it is a Hindu group and a Hindu temple is built in Tobago, that is the critical thing. It does not matter who is the owner.

"The break-up only took place about two years ago because of the intervention of the THA to divide and rule, to promise one group if you break away, we will give you that. This is a ploy by the THA. All the years we have been applying, we are talking about 15 years now," he said.

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