Aranguez farmers challenge WASA’s seizure of water pumps

The Wa­ter and Sew­er­age Au­thor­i­ty (WASA) has been called on to jus­ti­fy the ac­tions of its es­tate po­lice of­fi­cers who seized wa­ter pumps from two Aranguez farm­ers over the week­end.

In a let­ter sent to WASA’s cor­po­rate sec­re­tary Dion Ab­dool yes­ter­day, lawyers rep­re­sent­ing Ish­wah Singh and Han­sraj Mooni­lal gave the au­thor­i­ty un­til 4 pm to­mor­row to give a de­tailed ex­pla­na­tion over the con­tro­ver­sial seizure.

The duo’s lawyers al­so gave WASA the op­tion of im­me­di­ate­ly re­turn­ing the equip­ment to avoid le­gal pro­ceed­ings.

In the let­ter, at­tor­ney Kiel Tak­lals­ingh claimed that when WASA per­son­nel ar­rived at his clients’ gar­dens at 11 am they did not in­di­cate what laws or reg­u­la­tions which his clients were al­leged­ly in breach of or the au­thor­i­ty they were us­ing to seize the equip­ment.

“Re­spect­ful­ly, it is our con­sid­ered view that the sum­ma­ry seizure of pri­vate prop­er­ty from a cit­i­zen, in the ab­sence of ex­pressed grounds, rhyme or rea­son is not on­ly un­law­ful, op­pres­sive and ar­bi­trary but plain­ly can­not be tol­er­at­ed in a so­ci­ety that re­spects fun­da­men­tal rights, free­doms and de­mo­c­ra­t­ic val­ues,” Tak­lals­ingh said, as he claimed that they should have pro­vid­ed writ­ten rea­sons.

Tak­lals­ingh claimed that in the ab­sence of rea­sons from WASA and based on its em­ploy­ees’ con­duct, he ad­vised his clients that the au­thor­i­ty con­tra­vened their con­sti­tu­tion­al rights.

“Fur­ther, giv­en the pauci­ty of in­for­ma­tion sur­round­ing the seizures and the fact that farm­ers with­in the com­mu­ni­ty of North Aranguez have been tar­get­ed on a whim, it seems that WASA may have ex­er­cised its pow­er in a dis­crim­i­na­to­ry man­ner,” Tak­lals­ingh said.

He al­so sug­gest­ed that even if WASA had the dis­cre­tion to per­form the seizures, it should have tem­pered its re­sponse.

“Our clients are in­dus­tri­ous, hon­est and hard-work­ing farm­ers that have en­dured the brunt of ad­min­is­tra­tive in­sin­cer­i­ty for too long. WASA’s in­ex­plic­a­ble ac­tions on Sat­ur­day have ex­ac­er­bat­ed this on­slaught against a class of in­dige­nous en­tre­pre­neurs that should be fa­cil­i­tat­ed and en­cour­aged rather than pe­nalised,” Tak­lals­ingh said.

The farm­ers are al­so be­ing rep­re­sent­ed by Jagdeo Singh, Di­nesh Ram­bal­ly and Ste­fan Ramkissoon.

The is­sue of the seizure was raised by for­mer En­vi­ron­ment and Wa­ter Re­sources min­is­ter Gan­ga Singh in a se­ries of ques­tions to Pub­lic Util­i­ties Min­is­ter Robert Le Hunte in Par­lia­ment yes­ter­day.

Le Hunte was ini­tial­ly guard­ed in his re­sponse as he ac­knowl­edged the farm­ers’ le­gal let­ter.

“It is WASA’s in­ten­tion to pros­e­cute so you would un­der­stand my abil­i­ty to go in­to greater de­tail will not be very pos­i­tive,” Le Hunte said.

How­ev­er, when pressed fur­ther Le Hunte ap­peared to change his tune as he re­peat­ed­ly de­fend­ed WASA’s Es­tate Po­lice, who did the seizure.

“We al­ways ac­cused WASA of not do­ing their job. In this case, the WASA po­lice were do­ing their jobs in the ex­er­cise,” Le Hunte said as he claimed that they were be­ing vig­i­lant in their du­ties dur­ing the on­go­ing wa­ter short­age.

Asked whether WASA had no­ti­fied the farm­ers be­fore seiz­ing the pumps, an adamant Le Hunte ex­pressed con­fi­dence that the cor­rect pro­ce­dure had been fol­lowed.

“I have very much con­fi­dence in the po­lice at WASA know­ing the law and in know­ing the pro­ce­dures that are re­quired to ex­er­cise charges. They took ac­tion in an at­tempt to en­sure the law was be­ing fol­lowed and al­so to pro­tect from the dan­ger that was be­ing posed to the con­sumers,” he said.

Un­der the Wa­ter and Sew­er­age Act, which es­tab­lished the au­thor­i­ty, in­dus­tries and farm­ers must ob­tain a li­cence be­fore ab­stract­ing wa­ter from a wa­ter­course.

- by Derek Achong

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