The High Court in Kampala has dismissed the case in which three groups of environmental conservationists had sought to quash the environment and social impact assessment approved by the government to allow Hoima Sugar Limited to grow sugarcane in Bugoma Forest Reserve.
In his decision delivered to parties by email on Friday, Justice Musa Ssekaana the head of Civil Division of High Court, dismissed the petition filed by Water and Environment Media Network Uganda Limited, National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) and Africa Institute for Energy Governance.
The civil society organizations in their consolidated suits filed in 2020 sued National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) and Hoima Sugar Limited.
They argued that on August 14th 2020 NEMA granted Hoima Sugar Company a certificate of approval of environment and social impact assessment okaying the use of 21.54 square miles for sugarcane growing and associated developments.
According to the approval, the sugarcane project was to commence within 24 months from August 14th 2020 and the certificate was valid for five years but was to be revised upon request for or when the project area condition changes.
The land that was approved for sugarcane growing is situated on plot 216 block 2 traversing Butoole parish and Kaseeta Parish, Buhaguzi County, Kikuube district bordering Bugoma forest reserve. The land was gazetted in 1932 as a topical high forest and home for chimpanzees and part of the eco- system.
But the Environmentalists noted that sugarcane growing has adverse environmental and climate change impact including pollution of water bodies, river, and streams and soiling water quality.
Court also heard that the certificate of approval issued by NEMA for Kyangwali Land Use Mixed project to grow sugarcane on Bugoma forest land was marred by flaws because it did not follow the statutory procedures laid down under the laws; hence denying the environmentalists and other interested parties like the local communities a chance to effectively put forth their views aimed at protecting their right to clean and a healthy environment and protection of the country’s resources.
However, in response, NEMA defended the assessment saying that environmental and social impact assessment was approved and subject to sufficient review and comments obtained from relevant stakeholders.
In his decision, Justice Ssekaana noted that the Environmentalists based their case on distorted facts and they attempted to suppress the real facts to make up their case in court by exaggerating that the entire forest is being cleared for sugarcane planting which is not true.
According to the Judge, the sugarcane is supposed to be planted on 2,393 hectares, not 21 square miles as alleged by the activists.
“This is not true and is alarmist since out of the entire leasehold certificate of title issued to the second respondent(Hoima Sugar Limited), they are supposed to plant sugarcane on 2,393 hectares against a total area of 5,579 hectares which is less than half”, said Ssekaana.
He added that “secondly Bugoma Forest Reserve is still intact and the Hoima Sugar Limited has been directed to undertake enrichment planting covering an area of 3.8919 square miles and must carry out regulated activities”.
Justice Ssekaana further reasoned that Bugoma forest reserve is still intact but that the applicants, in order to attract the attention of the public and also to justify their existence as bodies concerned with environmental protection and awareness, are trying to make all sorts of unsubstantiated allegations to win public sympathy.
Ssekaana accordingly dismissed the case after agreeing with NEMA that all concerned stakeholders were consulted and made written representations before the approval of the certificate.
In October 2020, a similar case was filed by human rights activist John Robert Turyakira through his lawyers led by Eron Kiiza before the East African Court of Justice. The case is still pending hearing and determination. URN.