A tribunal has stopped the construction of the Nairobi-Naivasha section of the Standard Gauge Railway, a week before President Uhuru Kenyatta'scheduled launch.
The National Environment Tribunal gave the order following a petition by activist Okiya Omtatah and the Kenya Coalition for Wildlife Conservation and Management, a local lobby group.
The tribunal ordered the government and the National Environment Management Authority to stop all activities related to the project until the matter is determined.
“All activities relating to the appeal in question must be stopped until the appeal is heard and determined by the tribunal,” said NET secretary Jashon Awuor.
Omtatah and the lobby group accused Nema of allowing the project to go on before an environmental impact assessment (EIA).
The tribunal has powers to overturn Nema's decisions with regard to the EIA licences, which are mandatory before developments like the SGR can proceed.
Awuor said section 129 of the Environment Management and Coordination Act empowers the tribunal, which is located in Nairobi's South C estate, to stop activities that are subject of ongoing appeals.
Nema director general Geoffrey Wahungu did not answer calls for comment on Monday but he had confirmed the President would launch the project even before an EIA.
Uhuru was to launch the second leg of the SGR project in a major public event next Monday.
The Nairobi-Naivasha leg cuts through the middle of the Nairobi National Park for six kilometres, tearing the tiny park into two.
Nairobi National Park covers just 12,000 hectares and is the world's only national park within a city.
Designs produced by the ministry of environment showed that the railway will be raised on huge beams constructed inside the park.
The project has angered the public and nature lovers across the world because the government has several other possible routes that can spare the park.
Villagers in Kitengela, Oloosirkon, Sholinke and Oletepes also criticised the government saying they were ready to give their land for the park to be spared.
Benson Ochieng, director of the Nairobi-based Institute for Law and Environmental Governance, said the assessment should be done by an independent expert.
“This is a major national project anchored on Vision 2030. It is difficult for government agencies to take necessary controls,” Ochieng told the Star on phone.
“Agencies such as Nema, Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya Railway Corporations work at the behest of the President who is pushing the agenda. We do not expect it to be done well.”