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Government Defends Decision Amidst Tamil Trust Land Dispute



Government Defends Decision Amidst Tamil Trust Land Dispute
Image source: Le Mauricien

Xavier-Luc Duval, leader of the opposition, posed a Parliamentary Question (PNQ) to Deputy Prime Minister Steven Obeegadoo on, April 2. The question revolved around the issue of lands allocated to the Mauritius Tamil Centre Trust and the Mauritius Indo-Catholic Association in the Réduit Triangle area.

Duval inquired whether the restitution of land to these two organizations had been considered, and whether the lands were allocated for development purposes.

Additionally, he requested information on who the lands had been allocated to and for what purposes.

He also sought clarification on whether the two organizations would be compensated for any damages incurred in order to cover construction costs.

In response, Steven Obeegadoo provided a detailed explanation of the process that began in 2001 with the acquisition of lands formerly owned by the Lonrho Sugar Corporation, known as the ‘Illovo Deal’.

Despite a plan being formulated in 2004 for land use, in 2006 the government at the time decided to allocate lands to various organizations without adhering to the initial land use plan.

Over time, the Réduit area transformed into a development center, with some lands designated for the Metro-Express line.

In 2021, the Ministry of Housing and Lands conducted a study which revealed that out of the 24 land parcels allocated to different organizations, only 11 had been developed.

Consequently, the government decided to create a revised plan, grouping compatible activities together.

Unutilized lands were reclaimed, with exceptions made for lands earmarked for archive and library construction (at an advanced stage), as well as a plot assigned to the Ministry of Education for a future planetarium project.

Obeegadoo explained that unutilized lands, including those allocated to four socio-cultural organizations (the Hindi Speaking Union, the Indo-Mauritian Catholic Association, the Mauritius Tamil Centre Trust, and the Urdu Speaking Union), were reclaimed by the government.

He detailed that alternative lands in Côte-d’Or were proposed to these organizations, with initial agreement from all parties.

However, the Mauritius Tamil Centre Trust and the Indo-Mauritian Catholic Association later withdrew their consent. Site visits were conducted and the process to acquire these lands is underway through Landscope Ltd.

While three organizations agreed to the proposed land transfer, the Indo-Mauritian Catholic Association did not accept the offer.

Regarding the issue of land restitution, Obeegadoo clarified that the lands have not been reassigned to other developers yet, highlighting that the question of compensation does not arise, as no damage has been done to the organizations.

He stressed that lands were allocated to the Tamil Culture Centre Trust in July 2010, the Indo-Mauritian Catholic Association in 2013, and the other two socio-cultural organizations in 2016.

Construction works were supposed to commence within nine months of the contract signing in all four cases, with infrastructure works currently ongoing.

Obeegadoo revealed that the government has decided to fully finance the planned constructions by the various socio-cultural organizations, demonstrating the government’s commitment to supporting cultural centers to promote peace in the country.

The Opposition Leader expressed his disappointment at the decision not to return the lands.

He added that in the case of the IMCA, their plan and construction project had not been approved. “Today, the minister has the audacity to claim that socio-cultural organizations did not meet the deadlines,” he said.

However, the VPM expressed surprise that during the previous question period, the same question had been asked.

He then stated that in his meetings with the IMCA, no one had raised the issue that they had not obtained permission to proceed with the construction of cultural centers.

He also mentioned meeting with the IMCA president and executive members last year to explain the government’s decision, noting that no one had objected at that time.

The VPM also mentioned receiving a request for additional land, promising to consider it. He emphasized that if there had been a request for Planning Clearance, it would have been on the agenda.

However, the government’s priority remains relocation. “The government ensures that all amenities are ready before proceeding with the construction of cultural centers at its own expense,” he added.

Xavier-Luc Duval then presented two letters addressed to the Ministry of Housing by the IMCA, one requesting Planning Clearance.

The VPM claimed not to be aware of them, leading Duval to accuse him of not being in control of his files.

The VPM reiterated that lands allocated between 2010 and 2015 had been taken back due to lack of development, and a new study had been conducted by the Ministry of Housing.

He emphasized that the government not only proposed relocating the centers but would also incur construction costs.

Xavier-Luc Duval recalled asking the VPM the same question last year about funding for the construction of cultural centers, which had been refused. He criticized the sudden availability of funds just before the elections.

Steven Obeegadoo insisted that measures had been taken to ensure suitable lands and discussions were ongoing with Landscope for land purchases.

The Minister of Culture was preparing to discuss land allocation with the three organizations involved.

He accused the opposition leader of raising the issue once a year and challenged him to apologize to the organization’s leaders for dismissing their projects as nonsense.

The VPM defended the government’s actions regarding the lands and projects, stressing that the lands in question included those allocated to ministries and NGOs.

He highlighted the creation of trusts for cultural centers between 2000 and 2005 by the MSM/MMM government, stating the government would work with trusts of all religions.

He dismissed accusations of political manipulation and stressed the importance of urban planning.

Source: Le Mauricien

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