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Compensating The South Bank For Alienation
Posted: Friday, June 14, 2002

by Stephen Kangal

The Caroni River constitutes a geographical divide with socio-economic consequences. Settlements located on the South Bank of the River have historically suffered from congenital neglect and alienation. A huge element of our human resource endowment remains under –utilised and under-harnessed in the South Bank. Any articulation of their legitimate interests and aspirations is the subject of negative reaction from other competing interest groups and there are several competing and more powerful interest groups all of which appear to invoke, at times, almost a divine right of precedence and/or monopoly to the resources of the state. Save for Manohar Ramsaran, all MP’s have contributed by their silence and indifference to the marginalisation process of the South Bank.

The South Bank has to appear to be twice right to gain legitimacy. The national community has to recognise that these rural communities also have an alienable right to development, employment, infrastructural amenities, a system of modern health care which also ensures their physical fitness, equality of educational opportunities, a reliable supply of potable water and outages-free electricity.

But now thanks to the imperatives of geography and economics, settlements situated along the Old Southern Main Road (SMR) stand to be compensated for past neglect and indifference by being gradually transformed into a corridor of industrial and infrastructural development resulting from the push-pull effects.

Expanding commercialisation pushing southwards along the SMR from Curepe have been interrupted by the swampy, low-lying terrain located south of the Valsayn Teachers’ College/ NUGFW Housing Scheme now devoted to private rice production. The South Bank has exerted a pull effect on the above-mentioned commercialisation by reason of its more favourable and solid, stable terrain. Hence the 1978 location of the abandoned Caroni Racing Complex which is to be succeeded by the proposed Millenium Arts Centre earmarked for construction by the former UNC Government on the very threshold of the South Bank. However there is need for the Ministry of Integrated Planning and Development to conceptualise a long- term, holistic, co-ordinated development plan for the area to pre-empt adhocracy from leading to unplanned dislocations.

Traffic density along the SMR has quadrupled aided by increasing settlements, industrialisation, mushrooming schooling and recreational communities, increasing mobility of the national population and its geo-strategic proximity to the bulging East- West Corridor as well as the North –South arterial Butler Highway. The replacement of the old Silver Bridge built around 1880 is urgent and compellingly critical.

Caroni once functioned as a nodal centre resulting from the location of the Caroni Railway Station, the Caroni Ltd sugar and rum factories and labour- intensive and thriving sugar estates.

The employment-generating sugar factory which was based at Caroni until the 1940’s was relocated to Brechin Castle in cruel and vindictive retaliation engineered by an English overseer named Joseph Gilbert against indentured workers who staged a little-known and unrecorded uprising against this white massa’s cruelties when they lived in the Caroni sugar barracks.

In 1978 the South Bank viewed the decision taken by the PNM Government to establish the Race Track as a compensatory mechanism for filling the long void in employment opportunities provided by the former sugar factory but this expectation was short-lived owing to the graft and wanton corruption that lay at the heart of the project and perpetrated by one notorious bandit, Johnny O’Hallaron, the confidante of then Prime Minister Williams. The local lobby for the racing facility which I headed anticipated employment opportunities and infrastructural improvements. Sufficient noises were made to influence the then PNM Government to establish the La Paille Gardens NHA Housing Project as well as the Frederick Settlement Industrial Estate and Free Zone to counter the rising tide of public opinion mobilised against the Racing project under the" Houses before Horses" banner led by ULF Opposition Parliamentary Representatives, Rafique Shah and his colleague Mr.Ramesh Lutchmedial, then MP for Chaguanas. However, once the decision was taken by the new Prime Minister George Chambers, following the death of Dr.Williams in April 1981, to suspend the Race Track project these two deserted the people of Caroni and did absolutely nothing thereafter to improve their lot.

Now a bright new era is dawning on the South Bank. Thanks to former Sports Minister and Parliamentary Representative for the area, Mr. Manohar Ramsaran. Walker Park, abandoned, disused and overgrown with grass until 1995, is now fully refurbished and transformed into a modern day/night cricket venue. Doc’s Engineering has modernised its Frederick Settlement Sporting Complex. However these two venues, at which residents enjoyed a continuous and customary right of access for sports and games appear to be closed to them.

The South Bank is home to the expanded Frederick Settlement Industrial Estate and Free Zone and will welcome the contribution of Angostura to further increase employment opportunities should it renew its interest in the acquisition of the Caroni Rum Distillery on the basis of adequate and effective compensation.

There is however an urgent need to attract an increasing amount of new tenants to the Frederick Settlement Industrial Estate and Free Zone as well as to encourage the establishment of an apprenticeship scheme among the plants to increase employment opportunities in Caroni so as to mop up the excess labour and avoid the social and economic dislocation that will accrue from the inevitable downsizing of the sugar industry.

The residents have voiced concern with respect to the firm of Patrick Young Sing, furniture manufacturers which has long instituted a recruitment policy that, except for the head of security, would appear to deliberately exclude residents of the area resulting from a previous industrial relations problem with the All Trinidad Union.

The Mahasabha proposes to erect a modern, state- of- the- art Vishnu Boys Hindu College on the site formerly occupied by the old Presbyterian School as well as its own headquarters in Caroni thanks to its Secretary- General who hails from Caroni.

Caroni has contributed its more than fair share to nation- building through Bhadase Sagan Maharaj and his son-in-law, Mahasabha Secretary-General Satnarayan Maharaj, Wilfred Best, author of the Students Companion, Mr. Justice Lennox Deyalsingh, Pundit Krishna (Hindu Dharmacharya), Rita Adam (PS, Environment), Ramesh Rattan (Deputy Comptroller, Customs and Excise), Leo Seebaran, former PS in National Security, Rudranath Indarsingh, President of the All Trinidad Sugar Workers Union and Commander Jeewah Ramoutar, 2nd in command of the T&T Coast Guard.

Presbyterians, Catholics, Anglicans, Pentecostals, Moslems, and Hindus have since the colonial era established their churches, mosques, mandirs and schools to contribute to the harmonious religious and cultural mix of the South Bank.

The current imperative is for the new and emerging corporate community accommodated on the South Bank to give business success a human face by deliberately and collectively forging outreach links with the host communities to contribute to their social and economic welfare and community empowerment.

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