Protecting our historic legacy

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 11, 2023

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeIn 2013 the people of Tacarigua waged a valiant struggle to prevent the UNC government from establishing a sporting complex on the Orange Grove Savannah, now called the Eddie Hart Savannah. The plan, developed by Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SporTT), a limited liability the Ministry of Sport set up to act as its key implementation agency, called for building a 25-metre swimming pool, a cricket ground and football field, a pavilion, a 400-metre running track, and a car park.

On December 3, 2013, “Save Our Green Space Committee, Tacarigua” (SOGSC) led by Dr Carol James met with then-minister of sport Anil Roberts to persuade his government not to build any structure on the savannah. She reminded Roberts: “Tacarigua and surrounding communities were given 40 acres of land by the Orange Grove Estates [the Trinidad Sugar Estates] for community use, and this was whittled down to approximately 10 acres today.”

Apart from being a recreational area, the Orange Grove Savannah is the most significant aquifer in Northeast Trinidad, providing the water supply for a significant part of North, East and Central Trinidad. There are 12 WASA pumps around the savannah to provide the drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people in the area.

Roberts was adamant. He ended the meeting with the following pronouncement: “This project can’t be stopped. It won’t be stopped. It is going full-steam ahead.” Undaunted, the villagers organised themselves and raised over $500,000 to fight this destructive intrusion into our space and to protect the lungs of the people of Tacarigua and the surrounding villages. They took their case to court and won.

Justice Ricky Rahim reminded us in his ruling: “As we continue to develop as a nation in the twenty-first century, the time may have arrived when those who govern may wish not only to ensure that sufficient recreational areas are provided, but also to consider that the green spaces in our twin island state deserve some measure of protection.”

Imagine our dismay when on October 30, 2023, the destruction of our savannah began anew. The Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation (the Corporation) began to dig up the savannah to construct a car park without consulting anyone in spite of Justice Rahim’s ruling that nothing should be done to the savannah unless it was part of a National Plan and was discussed with the ­stakeholders of the area.

Once more, the SOGSC returned to its lawyers to prevent a PNM corporation from breaking the very action it opposed when it was out of power and to engage in a legal battle it fought against the UNC ten years ago. This time around our lawyers asked the Corporation about “the nature and scope” of its development on the savannah, when it was conceived, and by whom it was approved.

The SOGSC also asked the Corporation about the legal basis upon which it is exercising control and management of the savannah; to show that the savannah “is vested in the Former Country Council in accordance with… the Municipal Corporations Act”; and what its policies are with regard “to the ongoing and future development of the savannah”.

A country’s foreign policy is an extension of its domestic policies. It cannot act illegally at home and then spout meaningless phrases of legality when it conducts its foreign policy, especially when we opine about issues such as the Venezuelan-Guyana conflict and the Israel-Hamas war.

Looking at the behaviour of the Corporation, it’s clear it does not matter which government is in power. In many ways, their modus operandi is the same: do your own thing, to hell with what the people want.

In 2013 when we challenged the UNC government’s plans for the savannah, Minister Colm Imbert came to Tacarigua to support our struggle to preserve one of “the healthiest localities in the country”, as Martin Sorranzo, Surveyor General of Trinidad, described that savannah in 1846.

A government must be consistent. It cannot solve any of its challenges, particularly the growing crime in the island, when it has no compunction in breaking the law to achieve its ends. I am not too sure what the Government stance is on climate change, but there can be no clearer imperative than to preserve our ecosystem. Protecting our natural aquifers must be one of our priorities.

Digging up any part of the Orange Grove Savannah to build a car park is not consistent with protecting our ecosystem. It is almost as bad as the UNC government trying to place a stadium, a swimming pool, and a car park on one of the most beautiful sights in northern Trinidad.

The Corporation has agreed to stop its digging-up the savannah and will meet with the SOGSC and its attorneys on Tuesday “to foster a discussion of the issues” that were raised by the latter parties. It says that it hopes “to create a forum where perspectives can be shared, concerns addressed”, and a “collaborative effort made to find a resolution that serves the best interests of the community”.

No more structures should be built on the Orange Grove Savannah, especially when the 2023 UN Climate Change conference in Dubai is concerned about droughts that are affecting the world. It’s our sacred duty to preserve that space for the health and welfare of citizens who are not yet born. Nothing should to stymie this imperative.