About 431 residents from Mulanje, Thyolo, Chiradzulu and Blantyre have sued Blantyre Water Board (BWB), demanding compensation for their land in the K17 billion Likhubula Water Supply project.
In an interview on Sunday, lawyer representing the residents, Wellington Kazembe, confirmed of the matter, saying the residents have also sued the contractor, SMC Infrastructure Limited.
He said: “The people were paid very little compensation for the land taken away for the Likhubula-Blantyre water project. Some were not paid at all while others received very little, that’s why they have sued. Actually, the water board took more land than the land they paid for.”
Kazembe said the case will be going for a scheduling conference in October or the next few weeks when the High Court allocates a specific date.
He said mediation on the matter failed; hence, proceeding with the scheduling conference. The mediation was presided over by High Court Judge Healey Potani. The case will proceed to trial before a different judge .
However, the lawyer did not specify the exact amount the residents received as compensation and what they are currently demanding, saying they were paid individually.
“The claimants want to be paid market value of their land plus 30 percent of that value as disturbance allowance, as per the 2016 Land Act and per practice,” said Kazembe, adding the market value will be determined by a chartered land valuer.
According to court documents we have seen, the residents, through Kazembe of Mackenzie and Patricks Associates, commenced legal proceedings last year when they filed summons at the High Court in Blantyre.
The court documents show that apart from compensation, the residents are also suing BWB for trespassing on their land, carrying out works without due regard of the claimants, putting stones and other debris on their land without their approval and failure to properly dispose of waste in breach of Section 55 of the Environment Management Act of 2017.
In the civil cause number 206 of 2019, the residents further allege that there was poor and substandard works which have led to bursting of water pipes with the water reaching their fields.
Reads in part the court documents: “Some areas of the pipe have also burst and the water from the burst pipes is destroying the crops and gardens of the claimants.
“The bursting of the pipes has also caused environmental damage and degradation to the land of the claimants.”
The residents further blame BWB for implementing a project without following and implementing recommendations in the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment report in breach of the Environmental Management Act of 2017, carrying out works without due regard of the claimants, causing inconvenience, nuisance and trespass.
The residents also blame BWB for interference with peaceful occupation of their houses and land and causing loss of value of their land.
When contacted on Sunday, BWB chief executive officer Dan Chaweza, said: “The issue is being handled by our lawyers so it would not be fair to comment on something that is in the courts. So, let’s wait to see the outcome from the court.”
In the case, SMC Infrastructure Limited is the first defendant, PLEM Construction Limited second defendant, General Alliance Insurance Company Limited third defendant and BWB the fourth defendant.
In its early stages of implementation, the project faced some opposition from community members under Citizens for the Protection of Mulanje Mountain.
In 2016, they blocked then Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda when he wanted to visit the water source, arguing that government should first reafforest 3 500 hectares where trees were destroyed.
The project was financed by a $23.5 million (about K17 billion) line of credit from the Exim Bank of India.
In October last year, former president Peter Mutharika officially commissioned the facilities at Nguludi in Chiradzulu.
The project started in November 2017, a year after Mutharika had launched the works. It included construction of an intake dam at Chambe basin on Mulanje Mountain and a water treatment plant.