Court Summons Rajiv Ruparelia over Abuse of Lake Victoria

Court has now summoned Ruperalia to appear in court on April 13 over the blatant abuse of Lake Victoria which he is being accused of perpetrating. This is after he failed to appear on the three occasions when the case was brought up in court.
Barirega Akankwasah, NEMA ED at the site. NEMA photo

Entebbe Chief Magistrate's Court has summoned businessman Rajiv Ruparelia over alleged environmental degradation. He is accused of dumping soil in the water and on the shores of Lake Victoria at Kitubulu, Katabi Town Council.

The case is before Grade One Magistrate Elizabeth Kabugho who has summoned Rajiv Ruperalia to appear in court on April 13 to take plea. This is after he failed to appear on three occasions when the case was brought up in court. 

Kabugho has also issued a production warrant for lawyer Male Mabirizi, currently imprisoned for contempt of court, to participate in the proceedings on April 13. Mabirizi is serving a jail term of 18 months at Kitalya Prison for contempt of court.

The case against Rajiv was first brought to court by Mabirizi, who instituted private prosecution proceedings against Ruparelia last December.

However on January 20, when Rajiv was expected to take plea, State Attorney Timothy Amerit presented a letter dated January 6th, 2022  stating that the Director of Public Prosecutions-DPP has an interest in taking over Rajiv's case file.  Mabirizi however protested the move.

Mabirizi  then argued that the case should be adjourned to a date when Rajiv could attend court, take plea and listen to the proceedings including submissions for and against DPP taking over the case file. 

Amerit cited Article 120 of the 1995 Uganda Constitution which provides powers to the DPP to take over proceedings initiated by individuals or other authorities at any stage. 

However, Mabirizi protested the move to take over the case, saying the DPP wants to ‘kill’ the case. He added that it is unconstitutional to hear the case in Rajiv’s absence.

As a result, Amerit and Mabirizi asked the judicial officer to issue criminal summons against Rajiv.

Kabugho however did not pronounce herself on either issue. She instead adjourned the case to February 21.

On February 21, Rajiv Ruparelia was expected to take plea. The magistrate Kabugho was also expected to deliver her ruling on whether or not the DPP has powers to take over the case file from private prosecutor Male Mabirizi.

However, Rajiv, Mabirizi and  State Attorney Timothy Amerit were absent. Rajiv's lawyer Nelson Walusimbi told court that that his client could not attend court because he was indisposed.  He said that Rajiv had contracted COVID-19 and was in self-isolation.

Kabugho noted that State Attorney Amerit had communicated that he was undertaking a week-long training and would therefore not attend court. Mabirizi did not communicate his absence. But at the time, he was hiding after the High Court had sentenced him to serve a jail term of 18 months for contempt of court. He was later arrested and in prison at the moment.

Magistrate Kabugho then adjourned the case of March 9 to enable the accused person, the private prosecutor or his representative and the state attorney to attend court.

On March 9,  the proceedings failed to take off because Rajiv did not appear in court. 

Magistrate Kabugho has now issued criminal summons against Rajiv to compel him to appear on April 13.

Accusing Ruparelia, Mabirizi said he moved to initiate private prosecution proceedings against Rajiv Ruparelia as a responsible citizen because the National Environment Management Authority-NEMA and police would most likely not arrest or charge him for dumping soil in the lake.

He accuses Rajiv Ruparelia, the Managing Director of Speke Hotel of undertaking activities in the protected zones along riverbanks, lakeshores, and natural beaches contrary to Section 53 of the National Environment Act, 2019.

The same Act provides for penalties, whereby a person on conviction may pay a fine not exceeding shillings 600 million or serve not more than 12 years in jail or both.

In December, NEMA ordered Speke Hotel to remove all the soil it had dumped on the fringes of  Lake Victoria shorelines before it can be allowed to resume construction works in Kitubulu, Katabi town council.

NEMA made the directive after  Maria Assumpta Nakamya, a resident of Entebbe, complained about soil being dumped into the lake.  The authority and police officers visited the site and then met Ruparelia Group which owns Speke Hotel over their activities in Kitubulu.

The authority noted that there were concerns of lakeshore degradation from soil siltation into Lake Victoria, contrary to conditions of approval in the Environment and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) Certificate issued to the developer in 2020.

According to NEMA, Speke Hotel acquired a permit to build a hotel where Ssese Gateway Beach was previously located with the condition of maintaining the buffer zone of 100metres as provided for in the riverbanks and lakeshore use regulations, 2020. The hotel also applied for a permit to build a marina in the same place but NEMA, in a tweet on December 12th, 2021, said the application was denied.

Last month, NEMA board of directors and management inspected the site  to  assess whether or not their orders had been implemented. The management ordered Rajiv Ruparelia to comply with environment laws, and added that the order to halt activities at the site still stands until further notice.

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