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Court allows 1,900 deeds as evidence in Mau forest case

RIFT VALLEY
By Daniel Chege | Mar 25th 2022 | 2 min read
By Daniel Chege | March 25th 2022
RIFT VALLEY

Members of the Ogiek Community in a Nakuru Court on March 22, 2022, during a hearing over a case they filed over eviction from Eastern Mau Forest. [Harun Wathari, Standard]

Justice John Mutungi has allowed 1,900 title deeds owned by families occupying 35,000 hectares in the Eastern Mau Forest to be tabled as evidence in land ownership dispute.

The Nakuru Environment and Land court judge allowed an application by lawyer Steve Biko, representing 1,900 settlers who are residents of Nessuit, Marioshoni, Sururu, Likia, Terit and Sigotik settlement schemes.

They allegedly obtained the deeds between 1997 and 2013, before a caveat was imposed on the land.

Justice Mutungi granted leave until June 29 for the title deeds and other valid documents to be filed in court before the case proceeds.

“It is necessary for the court to have all available evidence in order to make sound and fair judgment,” ruled Mutungi.

According to Biko, the 1,900 people are part of an estimated 70,000 facing eviction from the forest land.

He said he intends to cross-examine representatives from the government on title deeds and it was important that the documents form part of the evidence.

“My clients are entitled to be in the case because if the government is planning eviction or extension of the forest’s boundary, their land will be affected,” said Biko.

State Counsel Fronicah Shirika opposed the application. She said Biko needed to follow due process by making a formal application to the court.

Biko was making his submissions in a case filed in 2020 by Nakuru County Assembly’s Deputy Speaker Samuel Tonui through lawyer Kipkoech Ngetich.

Tonui’s case is against the government’s planned eviction. On June 28, 2020, the government started the operation to stop all illegal human activities in forests. However, in December 2020, Mutungi temporarily stopped the evictions.

The settlers have sued the Kenya Forest Service, Ministry of Environment and Forestry and the Regional Commissioner.

On Wednesday, County Director of Environment Solomon Kihiu was cross-examined on the role of the National Environment Management Authority of Kenya (Nema) in the matter.

He said he was appointed to a task force to audit, alter the forest boundary, write reports and issued title deeds.

The case will continue on June 29 and 30.

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