Maasai Mau forest evictees dealt a huge blow after the Narok Environment and Lands Court ruled the government was justified in evicting them.
The three-judge bench, comprising of Judges Mr John Mutungi, Mr Mohammed Kullow and Mr George Ong'ondo, constituted to hear their petition challenging the government move to flush the evictees out of the forest, also declared the evictees’ title deeds as irregularly issued, unlawful, null and void.
The bench also declared that the evictees do not deserve any compensation or alternative settlement from the government.
The evictees, through their advocate Mr Kimutai Bosek, cited the evictions as having been carried by government security agencies in an inhumane manner.
They were also seeking to defend the sanctity of the title deeds they were holding.
The over 35,000 evictees held the argument that the title deeds they had were valid and that they were authentic land owners and that they deserved compensation.
The evictees argued that the land they had settled in was a trust land and not a gazetted forest.
In a bid to debunk the three-year old case that was first filed in July 2018 after the first phase of evictions, the judges outlined seven points that guided their unanimous decision on the matter.
The ELC Court judges also found that whereas there was no dispute that the five group ranches were trust land held in trust by the then Narok County Council, the boundaries were illegally extended.
For instance, the group ranches such as Reiyo which was initially 26 hectares was increased to 878 hectares, Sisian ranch was also extended from 44 hectares to 1215 hectares.
Others include Enakishomi which was expanded from 844 hectares to 9748 hectares, Enoosokon from 155 hectares to 658 hectares.
The last group ranch, Nkaroni which was originally 1597 hectares was expanded to 5582 hectares.
The court found that the illegal adjudications were done by land registrars who they declared had no mandate to do so.
In total, the illegally extended land was 14,103 hectares.
The ELC court in its orders found that the extension of the boundaries in the five group ranches were irregular, unlawful, null and void.
The court also directed that the title deeds issued to the illegal settlers were illegal, and should be cancelled and revoked.
Those still living within the forest have also been issued with a 90-day notice to voluntarily vacate or face forceful evictions.
Government through their relevant departments have been given 12 months to establish the original boundary between the forest and settlement area, demarcate and place visible beacons.
On the issue of inhumane evictions, the court heard that the petitioners through their witnesses admitted that they were issued with eviction notice and that most of them left voluntarily.
Upon establishing the boundaries, Judge Mutungi who read the orders, directed the government to erect a perimeter fence around the gazetted forest within 24 months.
The petitioners, however, got a rare win after the court declined to grant costs to the respondents terming the case as having been a case of public interest.
"This case was a case of immense public interest therefore this court will not put the burden of costs to the petitioner as it will deter other citizens from defending their rights in a court of law," declared Judge Mutungi.
He, however, asked the two parties to bear their own costs in the case.
There were mixed reactions from different quarters following the judgement with the petitioner's lawyer Mr Bosek vowing to take the matter to the court of appeal.
“I thank the court for the judgement though we are far from being satisfied with the judgement. We believe that the battle is not yet over,” said Mr Bosek.
He argued that there were gaps in the judgment that were not addressed.
Mr Bosek maintained that court failed to acknowledge the fact that the title deeds were issued by government land officials.
On the other hand, legal team representing the pro-Mau conservation applauded the ruling terming it as a milestone to not only millions of Kenyans but the continent.
Led by Mr Martin Kamwaro who represented Friends of Mau Forest organization in the case hailed the three-judge bench for the ruling.
“We thank the court for declaring a well-reasoned judgement. We also think the court for refusing to grant the petitioners a stay orders as it could have perpetuated impunity and fresh invasion of rhe forest,” said Mr Kamwaro.
The ruling was also praised by former Narok North MP Mr Mitalel ole Kenta who described the win as a win for conservation.
He asked President William Ruto's administration to ensure that the court's orders were implemented.