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Court allows railway to pass through game park

NATIONAL
By Kamau Muthoni | July 15th 2021

A section of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) near Kitengela area on Mombasa Road on August 27, 2020. [Elvis Ogina,Standard]

A bid to block the standard gauge railway from passing through Nairobi National Park has failed.

While affirming the environment tribunal’s verdict in favour of the government, the Lands and Environment Court has dismissed a case filed in 2018 to have the rail shifted from the park.

Activist Okiya Omtatah filed the case complaining that the tribunal failed to factor in the harm SGR will cause to wildlife animals. At the same time, he faulted the tribunal for failing to give him a chance to call witnesses from Habitat Planners Team and Kenya Coalition for Wildlife Conservation and Management.

At the same time, Omtatah argued that Parliament ought to have approved the project.

However, Justice Bernard Eboso declined to reverse the tribunal’s decision. He ruled that there was no need for Parliament’s approval and that Okiya abandoned the opportunity to present evidence from the witnesses from the lobby groups.

“I entirely agree with the tribunal on its finding to the effect that the parliamentary approval alluded to by the appellant was not necessary. I am also satisfied that the Tribunal considered the issue relating to the EIA Study Report and I fully agree with its findings,” ruled Justice Eboso.

Court papers filed by the activist read that Kenya Railways had seven routes to choose from for 2A, and settled on a modified savanna route that was approved by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) after months of negotiations.

The route was settled on after considering the length through the park, the route length outside the park to a proposed Ngong tunnel, and the cost of construction.

The team also had to consider the estimated annual cost of operations on each route. According to the analysis from planners, taking the railway through Athi River would have cost $832 million (Sh84 billion), making it the most expensive option.

A Kibera option was also discarded because it would cost too much at $674 million (Sh68.4 billion).

The experts had also considered going through the national park from Langata and Karen at a cost of $615 million (Sh62.4 billion).

However, KWS vetoed this on the grounds that the areas chosen had a high animal population that would not withstand works on a 16.4-kilometre route.

There was also a proposal to go from south to east of the park or modify a similar route. However, these two options, together with the Athi River route, would have required major modifications to enable the reverse movement of trains from and to Naivasha.

This would have attracted an additional $200 million (Sh20.3 billion) in construction costs, and another 50 hectares of parkland.

This together with a 30.2-kilometre track to the Ngong tunnel will cost $543 million (Sh55.1 billion). The experts intend to construct an 18-metre-high bridge in the park that will be supported by pillars that are 32 metres apart.

“The entire process of conceptualisation and implementation of the project was irredeemably flawed. The proponents of the project proceeded in complete disregard of basic constitutional principles and statutory law and in contempt of the people of Kenya,” Omtatah argued.

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