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Seemungal: 10,000 squatters in one constituency

By Juhel Browne CCN Senior Multimedia Journalist

In one constituency in North East Trinidad alone, there are “just over 10,000 squatters” on State lands says Land and Marine Resources Minister Jairam Seemungal.
He made the startling announcement during a ceremony marking the distribution of agricultural leases in the Caroni Central constituency on Saturday night, as he sought to highlight the magnitude of the problem he is now facing with squatting on State lands
“We have 27,000 persons applying for certificates of comfort under the State Land Regularisation Act of 1998,” Seemungal said.
Seemungal said those leases were the first to be distributed since the Ministry was formed and he was assigned to lead it during a Cabinet shake-up in September of last year.
Among those at the event who he credited with helping make the distrubition of the agricultural leases possible was Caroni Central MP Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh.
While delivering the feature address as the agricultural leases distribution event, Seemungal said the Ministry’s task is to find out how many people will depend on them to resolve their matters in relation to State lands; as he made reference to the 71 Certificates of comfort he handed out in the Toco/Sangre Constituency on Saturday.
“We have just over 150,000 clientele and we’re still counting. Now, think about the amount of squatters we have in this country. Just in the Toco/Sangre Grande constituency alone, this (Saturday) morning I was told have just over 10,000 squatters on State land,” Seemungal said.
In a brief interview with the Express newspaper yesterday, Seemungal said the 150,000 clientele are not all squatters.
He said that figure includes the 27,000 persons have applied for certificates of comfort as well as 24,000 farmers, 50,000 persons who have applied for the State’s Land for the Landless programme and 60,000 persons seeking squatter regularisation.
On Saturday, Seemungal said: “When you look at the amount of industrial leases, the amount of reclamation by way of the sea. Persons wanting to build jetty on State lands and fulling (sic) up the sea. It now becomes (an issue for) State Lands and all these people put together, the State in the pas never paid attention to this big and large clientele that the Commissioner of Lands office needs to deal with,” Seemungal said.
He said there are “over 200,000 acres of States” in Trinidad & Tobago and to “manage that you’re required to know where these lands are.”
“And the limited amount of surveyors, that they have; that we have in the country; it is practically impossible for renewal, in particular, when they require all these lands to be surveyed.”
Seemungal said in the Land and Marine Resources Ministry, staff have been compiling a “digital mapping reference service” which is a data base comprised of “all the State lands in the country.”
“You can come into my office and I can tell you exactly where your land is right now, by the click of a mouse. And we’re using GPS (Globaling Positioning Systems) to help map where these lands are. So even if you can’t find your plots I can give you the coordinates and you can go right on one of those newer devices, (smart) phones, and you can go right on your land and stand up on it, ” Seemungal said.
He said the lands of all 4,500 former Caroni cane farmers have been added to the digital mapping system and 30 year agricultural leases will now be offered... instead of five-year agricultural leases.
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