Solai dam tragedy: Court sets suspects free over ‘lack of commitment’ by DPP

Solai dam tragedy: Court sets suspects free over 'lack of commitment' by DPP
Perry Mansukh Kansagara, Vinoj Kumar and Nakuru County Director of Water Johnson Kamau Njuguna at a Naivasha Court. PHOTO| COURTESY

A Naivasha court has acquitted nine suspects who had been charged with causing the death of 48 people who were killed in the dam tragedy at the Patel farm in Solai, Nakuru County in May 2018.

The nine, who included the owner of the farm; Perry Mansukh Kansagara, were set free on Monday by Naivasha Chief Magistrate Kennedy Bidali who cited “lack of willingness and support” from the Director of Public Prosecution’s  office in prosecuting the case.

The magistrate blamed the DPP’s office noting that months since the case started, little progress had been made with adjournments being the order of the day.

In his 15 minutes ruling, Bidali accused the prosecution of holding the court hostage by failing to appear in court on several occasions.

He noted that the nine accused deserved fair trial which could not be given due to various adjournments by the prosecution.

While acquitting the suspects, the magistrate noted that 18 months since the case kicked off, the office of the DPP had failed to produce a single witness or witness statement.

Bidali noted that the office of the DPP had last year indicated that it was seeking a plea bargain with the owner of the farm but no report had been made to the court in relation to this.

In the case, Mansukh and the others are charged with 48 counts of manslaughter and failing to prepare an environmental impact assessment report.

Also charged in the case was the farm’s General Manager Vinoj Jaya Kumar and Nakuru County Water Director Johnson Kamau Njuguna.

Others were Water Resources Authority and National Environment Management Authority officers Luka Kipyegen, Winnie Muthoni, Jacinta Were, Tomkin Odo Odhiambo, Willie Omondi and Lynette Cheruiyot.

Separate investigations by various teams including the Senate and Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) had found the owners of the farm culpable for the deaths of the 47 people.

Investigators found that the construction of the dam was done by unqualified staff using farm equipment leading to construction and design flaws that led to the dam bursting its banks.

A Senate committee Chaired by Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jnr found Perry Mansukh Kansagara, the owner of the Patel Dam responsible for the tragedy, recommending that he be forced to compensate the affected families.

The select Senate team noted that Mr. Mansukh caused the loss of 47 lives for irregularly diverting river sources in Solai into his dams.

According to the committee, the redirection of the river sources into the Patel Dam is what caused the killer dam to break its banks washing away residents of Energy Village in Solai, Nakuru.

On its part, the Kenya Human Rights Commission found that the tragedy was as a result of “blatant lack of compliance by Patel Coffee Limited and negligence by officials of the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) and Water Resources Management Authority (WARMA).”

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Story By Festus Lango
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