Trinidad’s new show stopper is Indian origin environmentalist on hunger strike

November 26, 2012 01:34 am | Updated 01:34 am IST

Wayne Kublalsingh on strike outside the Prime Minister's office in St Clair, Port-of-Spain. 
Credit: Special Arrangement

Wayne Kublalsingh on strike outside the Prime Minister's office in St Clair, Port-of-Spain. Credit: Special Arrangement

It is a place better known for its carnivals than its protests. But an Indian-origin environmentalist, who is on a determined hunger strike to save a mangrove from destruction, has highlighted a side of Trinidad other than its famous limin’.

Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh, a well-known academic, has been sitting in front of Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissesar’s office in Port of Spain, protesting that a planned section of a highway will harm a 56-sq km mangrove known for its rich biodiversity.

The 53-year-old Dr. Kublalsingh has lost 19 kg since he began the hunger strike 10 days ago. Doctors say his kidneys and heart are beginning to fail. Last Friday, he was taken to hospital, and administered fluids intravenously.

Still, he refuses to call off his strike until Ms. Bissessaar agrees to discuss the highway and agrees to an independent technical review. According to him, the $7.2-billion Point Fortin Highway project will destroy the Oropouche Lagoon mangrove, known for its rare butterflies and birds.

Like Dr. Kublalsingh, who traces his roots to Uttar Pradesh, Ms. Bissesar is also part of Trinidad and Tobago’s Indian-origin community that makes up 41 per cent of the Caribbean island’s 1.3 million population. She is firm that the government has to go ahead with the project in public interest.

The opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) has come out in support of Dr. Kublalsingh with Pearce Robinson, the head of its online networking branch, PNM Abroad, describing it as a “penance”. But there is mixed reaction in Trinidad to the stand-off.

Columnist Marlon Miller, writing for Trinidad Express , said “we need people like Dr. Wayne to keep the powers-that-be in check”.

However, Dr. Kublalsingh got 70 per cent negative responses in an online poll conducted by Trinidad Guardian . His expletive-filled outburst at the Health Minister, who met him and offered him an ambulance, did not win him friends.

The National Infrastructure Development Company Limited, in charge of the project, says the highway would spur development, apart from easing traffic congestion

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