The Uganda Law Society together with a group of conservationists have dragged the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and Hoima Sugar Limited to court over growing of sugarcane on Bugoma forest land.
In the suit before the civil division of the High Court in Kampala, ULS together with the Environment Shield Limited and Resource Rights Africa Limited say that it was wrong for NEMA to issue a certificate of approval of the Environment and Social Impact Assessment that allowed Hoima Sugar to use the forest land to plant sugarcane.
In an affidavit by the ULS president Pheona Wall, activists say NEMA issued a risk assessment impact report clearing the use of the forest to grow sugarcane basing on findings where the activists say that one Martin Aryagaruka posed as a NEMA official to consult locals in Kikuube district whereas he had left the body .
“The purported single village consulted by Hoima Sugar was misrepresentation of NEMA who was held out as an official. In the said meeting, Aryagaruka was there to advance the sugar ambition of Hoima Sugar but passed himself off as a NEMA official,” court documents say.
The activists say the project has an intriguing history which Hoima Sugar ignored to include its report.
“Forest ecosystems and the services they provide such as food, water, disease management, climate regulation and spiritual fulfillment are preconditions for the full enjoyment of human rights, including rights to health, life, water and food.”
The group says that allowing the trees to be cut down for sugarcane growing is risky since it will allow viruses to jump from wildlife hosts to people.
According to an affidavit by Dr.Sanni Tajudeen, a lecturer at the Kampala International University allowing growing of sugarcane on forest land would affect the ecological set up of the area.
He also says that NEMA failed in its duties to ensure Hoima Sugar Limited adheres to regulatory directives to ensure the public is consulted on razing down the forest and its effect.
“The project approval will result in pollution in light of adequate mitigation measures for pollution. Hoima Sugar Limited has commenced operations that involve use of several by-products such as packaging materials for fertilisers, pesticides, fumigants, used oil which affect the environment.”
The group wants court to declare that by not adhering to the mandatory principles of environment management prior to the approval of the environment and social impact assessment that would allow consultation of the public was wrong and illegal.
“The applicant want a declaration that Hoima Sugar Limited and Martin Aryagaruka’s environment and social impact assessment between January 20th, 2020 and July,6, 2020 without any meaningful public participation or consultation of key stakeholders like UWA,Kikuube district and National Forestry Authority is a threat and violation of Uganda’s right to a clean, healthy, safe and decent environment.”
They also want court to declare that Hoima Sugar’s environment and social impact assessment report is compromised by fraud, dishonesty and falsehoods including claims that they consulted locals in Kikuube whereas not.
The group wants court to issue an order halting all Hoima Sugar Limited’s activities on the said land belonging to Bugoma forest and order an appropriate environment restoration by the company.