The High Court in Kampala has ruled that National Environmental Authority was right to allow sugarcane growing on Bugoma Forest land.
Conservationists including Water and Environment Media Network Uganda Limited (WEMNET-U), National Association of Professional Environmentalists(NAPE) and the African Institute for Energy Governance went to court challenging the Environment and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) report approved by NEMA that allowed Hoima Sugar Limited to conduct sugarcane growing in the disputed Bugoma Central Forest Reserve.
In their case, the conservationists said NEMA and Hoima Sugar Limited disregarded the public views on the forest aimed at protecting their right to a clean and healthy environment and protection of the country’s natural resources.
However, on Friday, Justice Musa Ssekaana dismissed the case saying that it has no merit.
“It appears the applications in this matter were premised on distorted facts and the applicants have attempted the suppress the real facts in order to make ‘flowery’ case in court by exaggerating that the entire forest is being cleared for sugarcane planting or that 5000 hectares (21 square miles) of the forest is being cleared for sugarcane growing,” Ssekaana said.
“This is not true and it is an alarmism since out of the entire leasehold certificate of title issued to the second respondent (Hoima Sugar Limited), they are supposed to plant sugarcanes on 2,393.8483 hectares against a total area of 5,579 hectares which is less than half.”
According to the Environment and Social Impact Assessment report by NEMA to Hoima Sugar Limited, the Kyangwali mixed land use will comprise sugarcane plantation with associated support components on 9.24sq miles, an urban centre (1.206sq miles), eco-tourism centre (1.9sq miles) and cultural site (natural reserved forest, nature walkways (6.17sq miles) and restoration of degraded forest areas whereas all fragile ecosystems within the project areas including streams, wetlands, swamps and steep hill slopes among others will be protected in accordance with the NEMA Act.
The judge said that Bugoma Central Forest Reserve is still intact and that Hoima Sugar Limited has been directed to undertake enrichment planting covering an area of 3.8919 sq miles and must carry out regulated activities, adding that there is no need to worry.
According to Justice Ssekaana, the move by the conservationists by running to court was only aimed at attracting public attention so as to justify their existence as bodies concerned with environmental protection in order to win sympathy.
He however warned that courts should never fall for such schemes aimed at cheap popularity.
“Courts of law are strictly guided by the law and sensationalism should never be used to sway court in any matter. The key stakeholders were consulted and they made written representations but the applicants seem to argue as if no consultation was ever made before the certificate of approval was made,” Ssekaana ruled.
“The application fails and is accordingly dismissed and but each party shall bear its costs.”