Court overturns the 2013 ban on lawn business
The production of rolled turf in Georgia has been suspended for more than 2 years. Companies that were successfully engaged in this business for years first encountered problems in 2013, when the government declared the production of rolled turf illegal, and accused companies of removing and selling of topsoil, effectively banning this activity altogether.
Based on requests from affected companies Transparency International Georgia (TI Georgia) took interest in this issue, and has been actively advocating for the removal of artificial barriers imposed on lawn production. To this end, in the summer of 2015, we held a public screening of our documentary film. In addition to other interested parties, the screening was attended by representatives of the Ministry of Environment Protection and Natural Resources. During the screening, as well as during a meeting held a few days later at the ministry, deputy minister Teimuraz Murghulia accused TI Georgia of promoting activities harmful to the country, and ruled out the possibility of allowing companies to continue producing rolled turf. The affected companies responded by presenting the ministry with a report prepared by the Levan Samkharauli National Forensics Bureau, which stated that turf production did not in any way undermined soil fertility. However, the ministry ignored the report, and went as far as to accuse experts of fabricating its findings.
The latest judicial practice does not allow the placement of such unjustified restrictions for companies producing rolled turf. In a recent court case, after examining the facts and related legal norms the Tbilisi Court of Appeals found that the production of rolled turf did not entail the removal of topsoil in the sense that is described in the Code of Administrative Offenses. The court upheld the findings of the National Forensics Bureau, according to which, lawn production does not damage soil fertility and does not require restorative measures. Therefore, the court ruled that an activity that does not cause harm must not be regarded as illegal, and the entity performing this activity – an offender.
It is TI Georgia’s hope that:
- The executive government takes into account the newly established court practice, and no longer creates artificial barriers for rolled turf producers.
- The Georgian government develops a normative framework for protection and maintenance of soil properties that will regulate the production of rolled turf in the country. This will provide companies with clear and easily foreseeable requirements that they will need to meet in order to conduct their business activities in accordance with the law.
- The Ministry of Environment ensures the involvement of business entities and field experts in the process of developing the normative framework, so that new regulations strike a balance between environmental goals and freedom of economic activity.