Thirty-five lawyers have moved to court to contest the impending eviction of 60,000 families from Mau forest.
Should the government proceed with the eviction, more than 10,000 learners in 31 schools will be affected.
It is a delicate balancing act for the government as it seeks to restore the Mau forest water tower with critics accusing it of violating the law by kicking out families from private land that they bought from group ranches.
The eviction is also likely to put Deputy President William Ruto in a tight spot in regard to whether he supports or opposes the move.
It comes as Chama Cha Mashinani (CCM) party leader Isaac Ruto has taken a leading role in opposing the impending eviction by engaging the government and other stakeholders.
Led by Nairobi-based advocates Moses Kurgat and Hillary Sigei and South Rift Law Society of Kenya chairman Kipngetich Korir, the lawyers have moved to court to secure orders against the eviction until the case is heard and determined.
“Residents and particularly the young, innocent and vulnerable children will be permanently affected and their lives destroyed should the respondents continue with phase two of the eviction,” states the lawyers’ petition. Environment and Lands Court Judge Silas Munyao has directed that the case be heard in Kitale next Wednesday. The orders have been served on the 11 respondents.
The new litigation comes even as another case filed by Kericho Governor Paul Chepkwony through Nairobi advocate Peter Wanyama remains pending at the East African Court of Justice and Environment and the Lands Court at Narok High Court.
In the first phase of eviction conducted 14 years ago in Narok South, officers demolished 15 schools and evicted thousands of families.
The then Education minister, the late George Saitoti, announced at the height of the evictions that the government had released Sh4.9 million to supplement free education for 1,449 pupils whose parents had been displaced.
“A total of 70 teachers will be redeployed following the displacement of 10,000 families including 3,000 school going children,” said Prof Saitoti.
In the new case the lawyers have sued the Cabinet secretaries for Interior, Environment, Education, the TSC, the Narok county government, Kenya Forests Service, Inspector General of Police, Director Department of Civil Registration, and the Regional Commissioner, Rift Valley. They seek to bar the respondents from “interfering with the rights to education, security, housing and health through any form of eviction of children in the affected areas.”
The lawyers also want the government to set up temporary health facilities and ensure provision of health services and supplies to children in the affected zone.
The petition also seeks to compel the department of civil registration to issue birth certificates to children born and raised in the region. “Unless this application is heard on a priority basis, and interim orders granted, the welfare of the children in the areas marked out for the eviction will be adversely affected and their constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms compromised,” states the petition in part.
On Wednesday, Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya called for a press conference after the lawyers served him court orders.
He insisted that phase the eviction would proceed as planned.
Last year, more than 9,000 families were kicked out of their farms despite protests that they had legal land title deeds.
Mr Charles Ngeno, the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers Narok branch secretary, said that past evictions have been ill-informed and poorly implemented.
“Much as we are not opposed to the conservation of the Mau water tower, we do not expect the government to disregard the law,” he said.