Protests derail Metro Express
It has been a long week for the inhabitants of La Butte and Barkly as well as for the government to reach a decision regarding the demolition of houses found on the proposed track. A week characterised by emotions, fear, anger, confusions and uncertainty. Till Thursday, no decision or conclusions have been reached. The kick off of Metro Express scheduled for 11th September might be delayed due to unforeseen circumstances.
- Court ruling pending
All attention was focused at the Supreme Court waiting for the decision of the Judge Rita Teelock. However, the judgment has been reserved. The other cases will also be debated afterwards. This has been the tendency since a week. On the other hand, the Metro Express project continues to raise controversy, though the government is determined to go ahead, and complete it within the set deadline.
The case of Azam Rujubali was however taken on the merits by the Supreme Court on Thursday 7 September. Consequently, the order to stay the demolition of Azam Rujubali's house was extended until Thursday. Lawyers Yusuf Mohamed, Rama Valayden and attorney Kaviraj Bokhoree presented their arguments to the Court on Thursday.
Rama Valayden, Rujubali family’s barrister, declared after leaving the Supreme Court that all links have now been severed between the Prime Minister's Office and the lawyers of the protestors. Rama Valayden believes that a solution is always possible after negotiations. He said he wants to negotiate with the government, but according to him, people in the Prime Minister's entourage would turn a deaf ear.
Timeline of cases
On Thursday 31 August, two applications for injunctions were filed. The first concerns a motion by 32 residents of Résidence Barkly, led by Vickram Dyal, a cabinet maker. They alleged that police officers informed them on Wednesday 30 August that the front of their house would be demolished to make way for the Metro Express. The second request for an injunction in the Supreme Court concerns an application made by seven persons residing at La Butte, and who have a workshop at Brabant Street in Port Louis.
The Supreme Court was expected to rule on the applications for injunction on Monday 4th September. The residents of Résidence Barkly were each requested by Judge Rita Teelock to produce their "lease agreement" with the State in Court on Monday following the interim order prohibiting the demolition of their homes. Regarding people from La Butte, the judge requested that they produce documents attesting that they are the owners of their respective dwellings.
However, on Tuesday 05 September Judge Rita Teelock rejected 10 of the 32 applications of the protesters of Résidence Barkly. She explained that they did not provide the documents or the leases to support their request. According to attorney Kaviraj Bokhoree, a number of applicants have been excluded because the work on the route will not affect their homes. In two cases, the application for an injunction is deemed to have lapsed, since the demolition of their structures had already taken place.
In the case of the eight members of the Gafoor family, a new application was to be presented on Wednesday 6 September, the lease being in the name of Serge Gafoor who is not in the country. Resident of La Butte Azam Rujubali's request for an injunction contesting the demolition of his house was called once again in the Supreme Court on Wednesday morning.
In a statement issued last Friday, the Ministry of Public Infrastructure and Transport raised some points concerning the situation at Barkly and La Butte. The statement also laid emphasis on the compensations disbursed till now.
At Barkly, there are 21 cases of encroachment on state land and 15 cases involving squatters at Mgr Leen Street in Port-Louis. 32 cases involved compulsory acquisition. “The compulsory acquisition exercises took place in 2014. Several notices were given to the occupants since April 2014,” reads the statement.
In terms of compensation, the government has already disbursed the sum of Rs 371 million which concerns hundreds of families and several companies. According to the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, in cases where there is eligibility for compensation and where the amount is not contested, the procedures for payment are in progress. On the other hand, where the proposed amount is yet to be decided, the occupants submitted their request for reassessment to the Assessment Board.
Highest compensation paid
So far, the compulsory acquisition of land by the government cost Rs 371 million. While some have only received a few hundred thousand rupees for their plots of land, others have received over Rs 10 million. The one who received the biggest amount is a company – Multi Channel Retail – whose land in Phoenix was valued at Rs 80.2 million.
Likewise, Médine Group who owns large portion of cane fields in the area of Chebel and its surroundings obtained quite an important sum in terms of compensation. Part of the land owned by the Group is on the Metro Express route and some 12 hectares were purchased by the government for the sum of Rs 72.4 million.
Additionally, twenty properties were acquired in Trianon in 2014 and 2017. For an area of 4,020 square metres, the Fanchette family obtained Rs 32 million and Editions Le Printemps received Rs 30 million for a land of 3,576 m2. The heirs of Mahendranath Gowrea were offered Rs 12.7 million for 1,790 m2. Also, for 1,472 m2, BTP Holding Co. received Rs 11.7 million.
In Beau-Sejour, (Coriolis Avenue), the Teelokee family owned several properties. In 2014, the proposal of Rs 30.4 million was made. In Richelieu, 19 lots were acquired for the project. In La Butte, there were more than ten cases where the government made compulsory acquisition. A member of the Aubdool family owned 349.5 m2 of land. His property at Brabant Street was hence valued at Rs 34.5 million.
Compensation claimed by Rujubali
On Wednesday, lawyer Yousouf Mohamed stated the Rujubali family is asking for a compensation of Rs 5 million. “We are asking for fair compensation for the Rujubali. We are here to negotiate because we do not want to block this project which is very important for the government,” said the lawyer. However, on the side of the Prime Minister's Office, it is said that no negotiations are possible because the case is in court.
Chaos in paradise
As described by the population as the Black Friday of 1st September, it was a chaotic situation. Police officers were present for the destruction of houses at La Butte as well as a completely unexpected situation whereby the Special Mobile Force was on site. People were being forced from their house. Parliamentarians are on hand to support these families. Some of the people sat on the streets revolting while the wife and daughter of Rujubali were transported to the hospitals. This chaotic situation led to a huge traffic jam in Port-Louis. Almost all the streets of Port Louis were busy and the road network was congested that traffic came to a standstill for kilometres, as far as Pamplemousses in the north and Highlands in the south. It took over five hours for people to reach their home in many parts of the island.
Insults fuelled during an explanatory meeting on the Metro Express, which ended badly in Barkly, Beau-Bassin on Monday night. Ministers Ivan Collendavelloo, Anil Gayan and Étienne Sinatambou as well as PPS Alain Aliphon and Ken Fong had to leave the meeting under escort following the anger of the inhabitants of the region.
Another confusing situation was the switching of lawyers. Senior Counsel Razack Peeroo withdrew from the case for residents of Barkly due to lack of information. In a statement to the press on Tuesday, the lawyer said he could no longer represent the protesters of the Metro Express project, having no "instructions" from their attorney Kaviraj Bokhoree. Other lawyers Assad Peeroo, Nawaz Dookhee, Vinesh Boodhoo and Urvashi Bissoondyal in this case have also discontinued.
Penalty to be paid
In an interview given to newspaper L’Hebdo/Le Dimanche, Minister of Public Infrastructure Nando Bodha revealed the financial imposition of penalty delays concerning the project. “If the site is not cleared for Larsen & Toubro, there is a heavy penalty that the government has to pay for each day of delay to release the land for the project,” the minister said.
As from 11 September, the Indian firm Larsen & Toubro, in charge of the construction of the Metro Express, will bring foreign labour and equipment to Mauritius. If the construction site is not ready for the start of the works, the Mauritian State will have to pay financial penalties to the Indian firm. According to a source from Metro Express Co. Ltd, these penalties will be used to compensate the expenses incurred by Larsen & Toubro for the mobilisation of its equipment: "It must be known that Larsen & Toubro intends to bring back important logistics for the realisation of the project. If the site does not start as of September 11, we will have to pay the firm since in the end, it will have transported all its equipment for nothing. In sum, the non-use of this equipment will have to be financed by the Mauritian authorities.”
Besides, the same measure also applies to foreign workers hired by Larsen & Toubro. “We are, therefore, obliged to pay a labour force that does not work. It will also be necessary to add 10% of additional expenses on this amount. If, for example, we are to pay Rs 5 million compensation per day to Larsen & Toubro, 10% of this amount will have to be added.”
One of the main questions running in the mind of the population: has there been a miscommunication in the whole process? Intervening on Radio Plus, Roukaya Kasenally of Mauritius Society Renewal stressed the importance of knowing how to manage information and events especially when in a government. “Any project of national scope must be accompanied by a dialogue or a consultative debate, as is the case in all the democracies among which Mauritius prides itself on being the number one in Africa,” she said.
She also argued that dialogue between the citizen and the leaders is essential. The lack of communication, she said, becomes problematic, because those who are in politics or in a government were elected by the people. This means that elected officials have a duty to consult. “It is a pity that there is no debate around the motivations of the project, its ramifications and its impact.”
Dev Beekhary: “It would not affect the start of the works”
However, many question if these injunctions in the Supreme Court and the interim order that temporarily banned the destruction of some of the houses at La Butte and Résidence Barkly would not affect the start of the works of the Metro Express project on Monday 11th September by the Larson & Toubro Company.
According to Dev Beekhary, it is too early to talk about any delay regarding the start of the works. “The 11th September is the date of the beginning of the contract. As from that date, different structures will take place, for example the mobilisation of the human resources. I do not believe that the interim orders will lead to the taxation of penalty fees.” The Communications Manager for the Metro Express Ltd and advisor to Minister Mentor’s office said that the first stage regarding the route of the Metro Express will take place at Richelieu. “As Richelieu is the nervous system, it is most probably that the first stage of the route construction will start there.”
The kick off date seems now to be hung on the Supreme Court’s decision. If the 11th September is missed, who knows the kick off might then take place a few days later, coinciding with Indian Premier Shri Narendra Modi’s birthday on 17th September!
Roshi Bhadain : “The Metro Express is doomed to failure”
The leader of the Reform Party continues to campaign against the Metro Express project. On Wednesday at a meeting at the municipality of Quatre-Bornes, Roshi Bhadain stated that he intends to circulate a petition to the residents of Constituency no.18 namely Belle-Rose / Quatre-Bornes, so that they can express themselves on the project.
He also expressed his intention to address a correspondence to the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to warn him against the construction of the Metro Express. “It will then be up to him to decide what to do, because we must not forget that this project is being implemented with the funding of the Indian government and it is also an Indian company that will ensure the construction,” said the former Minister of Financial Services and Good Governance.
During the meeting, the leader of the Reform Party also presented simulations of the project on the roads of Quatre-Bornes. Roshi Bhadain is categorical that the Metro Express project is doomed to failure. He insisted that the tram will cause enormous traffic jams in the streets of Quatre-Bornes and that he is certain that this will create chaos.
Jack Bizlall : “This situation is a prelude to a revolt”
Jack Bizlall intends to write a letter to the Indian Prime Minister Modi describing the situation of Mauritius. “The Metro Express is an economic and social burden put forcibly on our head. I am writing to the Indian PM and ask him to send delegates to see our situation. A big mobilisation is being prepared. This situation is a prelude to a revolt. A revolt always ends miserably. The government should review this project once more.”