Court upholds NLC decision in Del Monte land tussle

Del Monte is a food processing company
Del Monte is a food processing company. PHOTO | COURTESY

The High Court in Muranga has declined to suspend a decision by the National Land Commission that ordered Del Monte to surrender all land not registered under its name to local residents.

Justice James Makau however restrained the NLC  and the Attorney General from entering the contested land until the case is heard and determined.

“Pending the hearing conservatory order do issue staying execution enforcement of the NLC Historical Land Injustices Committee Determination dated 7th February,’’ the order reads.

The case arose when two petitioners James Mwangi and Ephantus Githae had sought an order to halt the renewal of the company’s land lease that is set to expire in 2022.

The two contended that the land should be put through competitive bidding from both local and international investors in an attempt to address the historical injustice of the property.

The NLC directed that any surplus land identified after survey be surrendered to Muranga and Kiambu residents in a ratio of 70:30 respectively and be held in trust by the county governments for resettlement.

“In case there’s no residue, then on expiry of the lease, a suitable amount should be set aside and held in trust by the county governments for the purposes of resettlement and public utilities.

“The respondent shall additionally surrender all public utilities within the land to the national or relevant county government agencies, whether the lease has expired or not,” the Gazette Notice further stated.

In its defence, the company argued that it was the registered owner of the land and had invested heavily in it, claiming that it will be prejudicial if it loses its parcels of land without being conferred a chance to be heard.

“If we were to lose the parcels of land, it would be forced to close its business to its detriment and to the detriment of many others who depend on it including its 7000 employees and their dependents,” says lawyer Njoroge Rigeru in suit papers.

Conversely, Kandara residents claim that it is dreadful to step into the property as there is heavy security presence and anyone who dares to venture into the land is subjected to vile acts of torture, assaults with dogs and horses and in some cases even murder.

They further argue that the company land is public property and Del Monte does not have propriety rights to the same.

“We have followed due process in our claim since 2016 when we approached the NLC with our grievances such that if there ever were any intentions of entering the property, the same would have already occurred,” read court papers.

Del Monte holds 22,000 acres, and the case determination will put an end to decades of long court battles between the people who were displaced from the land and the fruit processing company.

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Story By Agnes Oloo
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