Nema sued for allowing sugarcane growing on forest land

Secirity personnel inspect a section of Bugoma Central Forest Reserve in August 2016. Conservationists have asked court to quash the environment and social impact assessment approved by the National Environment Management Authority. PHOTO | FILE

Conservationists have asked court to quash the environment and social impact assessment (ESIA) approved by the National Environment Management Authority (Nema), allowing Hoima Sugar Limited to conduct the proposed Kyangwali mixed land use in the disputed Bugoma Central Forest Reserve.
In two separate cases filed before the High Court in Kampala, four civil society organisations (CSOs) allege that the certificate of approval issued by Nema was marred by flaws, procedural irregularities and conducted in disregard of the relevant laws.
The environment body issued the certificate for the mixed land use on 21.54sq miles on August 14, valid for five years but it was to be revised upon request or when the project area conditions change.
Documents show that the project dubbed proposed Kyangwali mixed land use, starts within 24 months for the sugarcane growing and development of other social amenities.
However, the issuance of the Nema certificate comes amid protests from the National Forest Authority (NFA), whose case is pending before the Court of Appeal and the civil society activists, who are fighting for the protection of biodiversity.
On September 1, Water and Environment Media Network Uganda Limited (WEMNET-U) sued Nema seeking court declaration that the ESIA issued to the sugar firm is illegal because it reportedly violates rules of natural justice, thereby denying interested parties a chance to effectively put up their views to protect the right to clean and healthy environment.
Through their lawyers, Kasadha and Partners Advocates, WEMNET-U is seeking an order to stop Nema and any other entities from acting on the said approval certificate.
“If the said certificate of approval and the ESIA report are not quashed, the public shall suffer irreparable damage as the approved ESIA report and certificate of approval have the effect of allowing the developer to destroy Bugoma forest, a critical sensitive biodiversity ecosystem in Uganda without according Ugandans a chance to present their views aimed at protection of the fundamental right to a clean and healthy environment,” reads the court document.
In a separate case file, the CSOs including Greenwatch, National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) and Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) have sued Nema jointly with Hoima Sugar Limited, alleging that the issuance of the ESIA was undertaken without consultation and taking into account the views of the local communities as required by the law.
They allege that while taking the decision to approve the contested ESIA, Nema ignored the need of subjecting it to public scrutiny as the law requires.

Contested ESIA
According to documents obtained, 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 (3.13sq miles).
“All fragile ecosystems within the project area including streams, wetlands/swamps, steephill slopes, among others, shall be protected in accordance with the Nema Act, National Environment regulations and any other applicable laws,”  reads part of the seven-page document.
According to the Nema conditions, the sugar company is supposed to undertake enrichment planting covering an area of 3.8919sq miles comprising the buffer zones bordering Bugoma forest, River Hohwa and its tributaries.
The petitioning of the President comes amid ongoing protests by environmentalists under the Save Bugoma Forest campaign 2020, which described the Nema decision as “broad daylight betrayal of Ugandans by indirectly giving out Bugoma forest to Hoima Sugar Limited”.
The conservatives say what Nema has done is a violation of the laws in Uganda because the public was not consulted, nor a public hearing held to collect public and expert views as required by law.