It is a reprieve for Bidco after Uganda High Court cleared the firm of claims of deforestation in the Vegetable Oil Development Program in Kalangala district.
The public interest case filed by three environmental groups alleged that Bidco coerced the Government through the National Forestry Authority to de-gazette forest reserves on Bugala Island for the growing of oil palm.
The court rejected this claim.
“The defendants have never asked the Government of Uganda to de-gazette any forest reserve as claimed in the plaint, no forest reserve has been de-gazetted as a result. The land was provided on Lease to Bidco by the government for the project was not a de-gazetted forest, therefore, the issue of de-gazzetation should not have arisen,” Judge J. W Kwesiga said in his ruling.
The court also rejected the claim of deforestation.
“None of the defendants (Bidco) have entered or cleared any forest reserve and claims to the contrary are false,”
the judgment continues.
The decision bodes well with the company which has been battling protesters and activists including bloggers in what they termed as a smear campaign against them. Last month, the company said that it has been fighting an anonymous and faceless group of online con artists masquerading as activists for over a year.
Vimal Shah, the CEO added that they know who is behind it and what they hope the pressure will lead to but they will not buckle neither will they give in to extortion.
In the ruling the court said it could not find any evidence that the company’s activities violated the right to a clean healthy environment.
“The plaintiff should have further produced evidence to establish that growing of palm trees would be harmful to clean and healthy environment rather than being accredit to a clean and healthy environment by growth of palm trees.”
The court said the lawsuit was unnecessary and the environmental groups could have acquired the truth by simply contacting the company.
Martin Lugambwa Chairman of the Kalangala Oil Palm Growers Association welcomed the ruling.
“This is great news. Let them leave us to enjoy the fruits of Oil Palm with our families. Our lives have changed, our children are going to good schools and we are happy. Let them leave us alone.”
Nelson Basalidde the General Manager of the Palm Growers Trust echoed the sentiment.
“The court has validated what we have always said and known. The forest reserves on the island are intact. There have been four separate environmental impact assessments. I think we need to focus on the remarkable transformation that is happening in the lives of small holder farmers and the economic impact on the Island.
Bidco Uganda Managing Director Kodey Rao who testified during the trial also lauded the ruling.
“This project has gone out of its way to maintain the environment and transform the community. The small holder farmers are happy and the community is happy. Kalangala has become a beacon for progress. We thank the court for making the truth known.”
In February, UNDP said it is probing the claims after a petition sent to it by civil society groups. UNDP had received the petition from the Bugala Farmers Association. Bidco Africa is a member of UNDP’s Business Call to Action (BCtA) where it hosts the secretary of this alliance of donor and other institutions that challenges companies to use their core business to engage poor populations across their value chains, while contributing to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.