Judge knocks State’s surprise evidence in temple land case

Thursday, March 28, 2019 - 07:00

A High Court judge ex­pressed con­cern on Wednes­day that the State had failed to dis­close cru­cial doc­u­ments in a mat­ter where a Hin­du re­li­gious group had claimed en­ti­tle­ment to a par­cel of State land on which their tem­ple and ashram were erect­ed.

Jus­tice Frank Seep­er­sad was ex­pect­ed to give a rul­ing in the mat­ter in the San Fer­nan­do Civ­il Court yes­ter­day but the dis­close of the new in­for­ma­tion in ef­fect ter­mi­nat­ed the case.

The State at the last minute dis­closed two Cab­i­net min­utes re­veal­ing that a de­ci­sion was tak­en to grant the lease to the group be­fore they even ini­ti­at­ed le­gal ac­tion, but the lease was re­scind­ed last month.

The Las Lo­mas No 2 De­vo­tion­al Ra­mayan Group filed the claim seek­ing a de­c­la­ra­tion that they were en­ti­tled to the land and that they had a bind­ing agree­ment with the Com­mis­sion­er of State Land for the lease of the one-acre of land owned by the State at plot No 40 Ca­roni South Bank Road, Las Lo­mas No 2. The ac­tion was filed against the At­tor­ney Gen­er­al in 2016 af­ter the group’s pres­i­dent Param Bas­deo Maraj made sev­er­al un­suc­cess­ful at­tempts over the years to be is­sued with a deed of lease for the land. The group’s at­tor­ney sent a pre-ac­tion pro­to­col let­ter to the Com­mis­sion­er of State Lands but got no re­sponse.

The judge not­ed with con­cern that in the doc­u­ments filed in the court mat­ter the State failed to dis­close a Cab­i­net minute dat­ed March 12, 2015, in which a de­ci­sion was tak­en to grant the lease to the group.

The judge was fur­ther alarmed that an­oth­er Cab­i­net minute dat­ed Feb­ru­ary 14—five days be­fore the State filed sup­ple­men­tal doc­u­ments—in which a de­ci­sion was tak­en to re­scind the lease, was al­so not dis­closed. The doc­u­ments, ac­cord­ing to the group’s at­tor­ney Alvin Pariags­ingh, were on­ly dis­closed af­ter he sent an email on March 21, to the State’s at­tor­ney in­form­ing her that per­son­nel from the Com­mis­sion­er of State Lands had ap­proached his client in­di­cat­ing that the struc­tures on the land were sched­uled to be de­mol­ished on March 23. The Com­mis­sion­er, how­ev­er, sub­se­quent­ly gave an un­der­tak­ing to halt any ac­tion un­til the de­ter­mi­na­tion of the court mat­ter.

The judge ques­tioned whether the State was play­ing a game of hide and seek.

“There must be the pre­sump­tion of reg­u­lar­i­ty in how lit­i­ga­tion in­volv­ing the State is done.”

Re­in­forc­ing that there must be full and frank dis­clo­sure, he said the non-dis­clo­sure of the doc­u­ments were un­ac­cept­able es­pe­cial­ly since the doc­u­ments would have been un­der the con­trol of the de­fen­dant (State).

“It rais­es a sense of dis­qui­et in court’s mind the ve­rac­i­ty in the way that oblig­a­tion would have dis­charged,” the judge said.

The State’s at­tor­ney Ke­l­isha Bel­lo said the doc­u­ments were dis­closed by them (the at­tor­neys) as soon they were brought to their at­ten­tion.

The judge said the omis­sion was some­thing that war­rants a re­view al­though there may be a per­fect­ly le­git­i­mate ex­pla­na­tion why the doc­u­ments were not dis­closed.

Pariags­ingh said his client will now to file a new claim re­gard­ing the Cab­i­net de­ci­sion to re­scind the lease, but he was con­cerned that the State may move to de­mol­ish the tem­ple and ashram.

The judge ad­journed the mat­ter to next Wednes­day for the par­ties to come to a con­sen­sus on the de­mo­li­tion or­der.

The judge would al­so be de­cid­ing on costs.

Reporter: Sascha Wilson