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Devotees ready to fight for temple land

Published: 
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Pundit Larry Hasmatally offers prayers at the Shri Nav Durga Kali Ashram at St Mary’s Village, in South Oropouche, yesterday. Officials of the Planning Ministry made a site visit to the structure which is deemed in breach of some building protocols. PICTURE RISHI RAGOONATH

Vowing to protect their temple with their lives, devotees from the Shri Nav Durga Kali Ashram yesterday vowed to mount a legal challenge to stop the State from demolishing any part of their ashram.

This after a high-powered team from the Ministry of Planning and Development and Town and Country Planning Division officials visited the mandir at St Mary’s Village, South Oropouche, yesterday.

The officials took measurements of the structure which is the source of contention, having been built without approvals from Town and Country Planning.

In an interview afterwards, Pundit Larry Hasmatally said the visit was surprising, adding he was appalled when officials ordered him to remove sacred murties (statues) from the site.

“It is disrespectful. Obviously none of them are Hindus, as they do not know once prayers are infused you cannot move the murties,” Hasmatally said, adding that state team spent half an hour in the compound.

Having already spoken to his attorneys, Hasmatally said they were prepared to file an injunction to stop any forced demolition of the structure.

“It is hurtful that after so many years of work, the Government is forcing me to tear down my beloved temple,” Hasmatally said.

He said the adjoining structure, one of the structures which the TCPD initially received complaints about in 2014, is used as a home for displaced children and victims of domestic violence.

“Many people have sought refuge at this mandir. We have hundreds of accounts from people who can tell you how this mandir changed their lives. We have been existing for over 60 years. Why does the Government want to tear us down instead of supporting the good work that we do?” Hasmatally said.

He admitted that the building did not have the approvals, but noted that most of the structures in South Oropouche also did not have building approvals.

“Am I the only one who is going to be targeted?” Hasmatally asked.

He also denied that temple and adjoining structure was built on a road reserve.

“We are 21 feet away from the road reserve,” he said.

During the tour, members of the state team tried to stop CNC3 cameraman Ivan Toolsie from taking video footage of their visit.

Councillor for Avocat/San Francique Doodnath Mayrhoo questioned whether the Government would be seeking to demolish houses in Sea Lots which were built two feet away from each other.

“Many houses are built without planning approvals. There is a church in Port-of-Spain which is encroaching on the road. Are they going to break that down too?” Mayrhoo asked.

In a statement on the issue, Minister of Planning Camille Robinson-Regis reiterated that the temple was not being targeted for demolition. She said Chapter 35:01 of the Town and Country Planning Act states that permission is required under part three section 8 (1) of the act for any development of land that is carried out after the commencement of this act in August 1969. She added that section 8 (2) of the act describes development as the undertaking of building, engineering, mining or other operations in, on, over or under any land; the making of any material change to the use of any buildings or other land; or the sub-division of any land.

In a previous statement, Robinson-Regis said because of egregious breaches carried out on the site she had agreed to enforcement action and enforcement notices were served by registered mail on April 3, 2018.

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