After battling in court for over 15 years, Mr Lalitchandra Durgashanker Pandya has won the ownership battle of more than 12 acres of land in a posthumous judgment.
Mr Pandya has not, however, lived to enjoy the victory that will see more than 3, 000 squatters evicted, churches and mosques erected on the property demolished.
The deceased sued more than 106 squatters in 2006, but he died in 2014, leaving the dispute unresolved.
The case was defended on his behalf until the judgment was delivered this year.
Like in his case, litigants in this region have been forced to replace their loved ones, who filed their cases in court but died during the pendency of their cases.
Mr Pandya represents hundreds of people who died while seeking land justice in the Coast region, which grapples with numerous land disputes.
The slow resolution of land-related disputes in this region has been attributed to limited judicial officers in the Environment and land Court (ELC) division.
For more than four years, the region has had only three ELC judges, who are expected to clear the backlog and deal with new filings.
But in a bid to speed up the wheels of justice, the Judiciary has deployed two more judges at the Coast to deal with perennial land disputes in the region.
This addition has been seen as the government’s efforts to address land problems at the Coast. This comes at a time the country is headed to the 2022 elections, where politicians are expected to use land injustices as a campaign tool to woo voters.
The posting of the two new judges now brings to five, the number of ELC judicial officers, who are expected to speed up the resolution of land-related disputes.
The deployment of Justice Naikuni Lucas Leperes now makes three the number of ELC judges in Mombasa, who are expected to deal with more than 2146 pending cases and the new filings.
Justice Leperes joins Justices Nelly Matheka and Sila Munyao in the ELC division while Justice Millicent Odeny will oversee land-related disputes in Malindi.
Justice Addraya Edda Dena has been posted to Kwale County that also has numerous land-related matters, which have been for years heard in Mombasa. Prior to her posting, Kwale had no ELC judge.
The five judicial officers are now expected to speed up the resolution of cases in a region that has the highest number of pending cases.
A Draft Third Quarter caseload statistics report released by the judiciary in March this year showed that Mombasa station is leading in the number of pending cases followed by Nairobi’s Milimani and Eldoret.
Mombasa station is grappling with 2,146 pending cases in the ELC division alone.
The report further shows that in the 2020/21 financial year, 343 land-related disputes, including appeals and petitions were filed at the ELC, Mombasa, while 155 others were filed in Malindi.
As of March 31, ELC Mombasa had 2,146 pending cases while Malindi has 844.
The report also gave a case backlog statistic by age, where Mombasa has 1, 554 such cases.
Some 766 land-related cases have been at the Mombasa court for three years while 595 others have stayed at the court for between three and five years.
An additional 193 cases are more than five years old.
Malindi has a backlog of 598 cases, where 429 have been at the courts for between one and three years, while 168 others have spent between three to five years.
The statistics indicate that land-related matters have a case backlog of 11,322 in the country.
But even as the judiciary has increased the number of ELC judges, lawyers in Mombasa still think that more judges are needed to efficiently deal with land disputes.
Mombasa Law Society (MLS) Chairman Mathew Nyabena says that the judiciary needs to increase this number for effective and efficient resolution of disputes.
“They may have increased the number by two but they are still not sufficient because of the myriad of land and environmental issues at the Coast,” he says.
According to Mr Nyabena, the judiciary needs to post one judge in Voi, Malindi, and two more in Mombasa.
This, he said, is due to the many adverse possession suits that are filed due to the absentee landlord challenges.
“With the increase in land invasions and squatter problem which makes the region a hotbed of chaos, adequate dispute resolution mechanisms need to be put in place,” he says.
Mr Nyabena says that the limited number of ELC judges result to delay in dispensation of justice and a lack of faith in the judicial system.
“People then resort to extra-judicial approaches to resolve disputes. This, in turn, makes the region unattractive to investors as well as a security concern,” he says.
Mr William Kenga who is known at the Coast for representing those with land grievances also supports the need for the deployment of more ELC judges.
He says that other than Mombasa, other counties within the region also need at least one ELC judge to deal with land-related matters emanating from the respective areas.
“We do not have enough judicial officers considering the workload in this region,” he says
The advocates’ umbrella body in Mombasa has reached out to the Office of the Chief Justice over the need to deploy more judges to the region.
In one of those engagements, the MLS has stressed the need for the judiciary to increase manpower in the division to speed up the wheels of justice.
“It is noteworthy many murder cases in the criminal division of the High Court are because of direct conflict involving members of one family relating to unresolved land disputes,” MLS said in a letter to the CJ
Mr Nyabena says that land dispute is an emotive matter in the region such that a rescue centre has been established for old people, who have been threatened with death.
The recent killing of businessman Sidik Anwarali Sumra, his driver Rahil Mohamed Kasmani and land agent James Kazungu Kafani have been linked to a land dispute.