Solai farm co-director exonerates from dam tragedy

Counties Editor's Pick Legal Nakuru

A co-director of the famous Solai farm in Nakuru, Perry Mansukhlal Patel, where a mega dam broke its banks and killed 48 people in 2018, has exonerated himself from any wrongdoing.

In his defense before the Naivasha Chief Magistrate Nathan Lutta Shiundu, Patel said that though he was a co-director of the company that owned the farm, his father, Mansoul Patel, who is now deceased, was the manager of the farm at the time when the unfortunate incident occurred, and that he was in Nairobi at the time of the incident.

He said his late father, who died in June 2021, had managed the farm where the dam was for many years until it burst its banks, killing 48 people.

Patel said he was unfairly and singlehandedly charged with counts of negligence and manslaughter since the dam had met all the registration, legal requirements, and operating permits at the time of the incident.

He was giving his defense in chief in a case in which he and the farm`s co-director, Mr. Vinoj Jaya Kumar, and other accused persons, Luka Kipyegon, Winnie Muthoni, Tomkin Odhiambo, Johnson Njuguna, Lynnette Cheruiyot, Willice Omondi, and Jacinta, are each charged with 48 counts of manslaughter.

The nine are accused of neglecting their duty by failing to prepare an environmental impact assessment report, which led to the deaths of 48 people on May 9, 2018, where hundreds of people were also displaced when the mega dam broke down.

The court made the decision to put the suspects on their defense after considering evidence from 36 state witnesses, saying they had a case to answer.

In his defense before the court when the case resumed on Monday, Patel informed the court that the dam was already in operation before the family purchased the property in 2003, and at the time of the collapse of the dam, the farm had employed up to 1,000 employees.

He said the farm relied on the dam to supply water for its agricultural activities, including a coffee farm, cut roses, dairy farming, and a 250-acre game sanctuary.

Patel further informed the court that the farm had operating and water abstraction permits from the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and other relevant bodies which were due to expire in December of 2018, months after the dam collapse.

He said the dam was legally licensed and complied with all requirements of the law, and a report which has also been tabled before the court showed there was a lot of cutting of trees upstream and cultivation on the riparian areas that had all contributed to environmental degradation, which saw the mega dam on Solai Farm break its banks when the area received excessive rain.

“This caused a lot of water to gush downstream into neighbouring villages, which caused flooding, which led to the unfortunate incident where 48 people died and hundreds were displaced,” Patel said. He continues with his defense on Tuesday, September 5.

The nine accused persons were first charged in 2019 and were each released on a Sh5 million bond with surety of a similar amount or the option of Sh2.5 million cash bail.

The case had been on hiatus for three years and only commenced early last year at the Naivasha law courts. This followed the directive by the High Court to allow victims to be represented by lawyer John Chigiti.

The prosecution is led by State Counsel Alex Muteti, while Kelly Marenya is appearing for the survivors of the tragedy. Senior Counsel Pravin Bowry is leading the defense.

On May 9, 2018, the dam burst at a private farm in Solai, Nakuru County, killing 48, injuring and displacing hundreds, and destroying property worth millions of shillings.

The dam collapsed, sending millions of litres of water gushing through the fields of a 3,000-acre commercial coffee farm and into the homes downstream, killing 48 people.

It is not clear what caused the bursting of the dam, but the residents of the affected villages, which included Endao, Energy, Nyakinyua, Milmet, and Arutani in Solai division, claimed the bursting caused surplus water from three rivers that were blocked by the Patels and directed to the unfortunate dam.

By Mabel Keya – Shikuku

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