emc gyla

On November 14, 2020, the State, using police force, dispersed a protest rally held by the local population against the construction of the Namakhvani hydropower plants' cascade in the village of Zhoneti. The local communities are organizing against one of the largest energy projects in the country's history and protesting against the State's disregard for the hydropower plant's high environmental impact and the local population's concerns; while the State uses police force to suppress the protest instead of holding a dialogue with locals, trying to overcome their just resistance with repressive methods.  

Residents of the Rioni Gorge villages have been protesting against the construction of the cascade of the Namakhvani hydropower plants for 21 days now. The hydropower plant opponents are trying to stop construction by keeping a watch on the ground and staying in tents at night. The population demands the stopping of construction works, which the contractor company is carrying out under preparatory works. The company has yet to submit essential documentation and expert studies on the environmental impact of hydropower plant construction. However, the so-called 'preparatory work' that it has started implies substantial intervention and will transform the local natural and social environment to a considerable extent. The local population is demanding an opportunity to meet with the responsible public servants and share their concerns. According to the locals, instead of starting a dialogue, up to 100 police officers were mobilized in the gorge and moved the protesters (including the elderly, women, and children) from the carriageway using physical force. According to news reports and locals, several protesters were injured during the confrontation with the police.

The Namakhvani hydropower plants' cascade's construction is planned to be carried out on the Rioni River in the municipalities of Tskaltubo and Tsageri. The cascade is one of the largest energy projects, and its total installed capacity amounts to 433 MW. The cascade project envisages the construction of two dams in the Rioni Gorge. Due to the large scale of the project, its potential impact on the local social and natural environment and the risks related to the impacts is high. According to the company's environmental impact assessment report,[1] the implementation of the Lower Namakhvani project alone will entail the loss of a considerable land area, which will mainly be caused by the arrangement of a water reservoir with a mirror surface of 610 hectares.[2] The report also says that the project is fraught with high risks in terms of physical and economic displacement; the water of the reservoir will flood 100 houses, and the families living there will be subjected to physical displacement. Even more families will be subjected to the indirect impact of the project.[3] a serious seismic risk accompanies the project; according to experts, the cascade of the Namakhvani and Tvishi dams will not even be able to withstand a magnitude five earthquake, whereas a magnitude seven earthquake took place in Racha in 1991.

It is noteworthy that the company implementing the project has failed to conduct the studies required by the law and the scoping decision to check against risks to the safety of human health and environment [4]; accordingly, the State and the company have not adequately explored the character and scale of the environmental impact of the project. Despite this, on February 28, 2020, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture issued an environmental decision on the project [5] and tasked the owner of the permit with submitting critically essential and mandatory information after the decision was taken, which has yet to be submitted.[6]

It should be noted that the construction permit issued by LEPL Technical and Construction Supervision Agency of the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development, [7] in its turn, also provides for a number of documents that the company must submit before the start of construction. Therefore, at this stage, we have a situation where the company is effectively carrying out the construction works of the hydropower plant without having submitted the essential studies and documentation required by the construction permit and the environmental decision.

In a situation where the local population, the public, and area specialists have a number of critical conclusions and questions about both the lawfulness of the construction of the hydropower plant and its extremely high impact and risks, the construction of the large energy project is proceeding in a non-transparent manner, with disregard for these questions and opinions, and without interruption.[8] The authorities respond to the local population's concerns and peaceful protest with repressive methods and try to suppress the protest using police force, by which they grossly violate the fundamental rights of the people impacted by the project.

Considering the foregoing,

We call upon the Government of Georgia to:

- Stop using repressive methods against the peaceful and just protest of the local population and immediately create a format of a continuous and real dialogue with the general public and area specialists;

- Ensure that the construction works of the Namakhvani hydropower plant is suspended until proper consultations are held with broad public groups, especially with the local population, and until the company submits essential documents and studies on the possible environmental impact of the hydropower plant;

We call upon the judiciary to:

- Ensure that the admitted claim is considered in a timely and impartial manner so that the locals are allowed to protect their rights by legal means on time.

We call upon local and international organizations, diplomatic missions, and media organizations to:

- Take an active interest in the issues of the lawfulness of the project of the Namakhvani hydropower plant and its possible environmental impact and to use all resources at their disposal to support the concerns of the local population and put the problematic nature of the construction of the Namakhvani hydropower plant on the agenda.    

Signatory organizations:

Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC)
Green Alternative
Georgian Young Lawyers' Association

 


[1] Based on a contract concluded with the Government of Georgia, the project is being implemented by Enka Renewables Ltd. It should be noted that the public also has questions regarding the company implementing the project; a tunnel of the Shuakhevi hydropower plant, which was built by the same company, collapsed soon after it was put into operation; the relevant information is available at https://batumelebi.netgazeti.ge/news/108711/.

[2] See the report of the environmental impact assessment of the Lower Namakhvani hydropower plant prepared by the company, p. 358, available at https://mepa.gov.ge/Ge/PublicInformation/17104.

[3] Ibid.  

[4] Green Alternative and GYLA Request the Declaration of the Environmental Decision as Null and Void Issued on the Project of Namakhvani Hydroelectric Power, April 6, 2020. On April 6, 2020, a claim regarding the invalidation of the environmental decision issued in connection with changes to the project of the two-tier cascade of the Namakhvani hydropower plants planned to be constructed on the Rioni River in the municipalities of Tskaltubo and Tsageri was filed at the Tbilisi City Court on behalf of the local population. However, even an advance first hearing has not been scheduled on this case.

[5] The environmental decision is available at https://mepa.gov.ge/Ge/Files/ViewFile/28460.

[6] Green Alternative demands the revocation of the environmental decision on the construction and operation of the cascade of the Namakhvani hydropower plants, April 8, 2020

[7] Construction permit of the Lower Namakhvani hydropower plant, together with other materials of the proceedings requested from the Agency by Green Alternative                 

[8] According to the protesters, no one has contacted them during the 21-day protest. See the relevant information at https://publika.ge/gvaqvsdazianebebi/.