Infrastructural projects and the right to ownership in highland Adjara
For three days in July this year, lawyers from the Batumi office of Transparency International (TI) Georgia visited 12 villages in Upper Adjara to provide free legal consultation for the local population.
The Adjaristskali River hydroelectric power plant
Several hydroelectric power plants are being built in the Adjara region. One of the largest projects, the Adjaristskali River hydropower cascade, is being undertaken by a Norwegian company, Clean Energy Group, together with an Indian energy company, Tata Power, and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank. The power plants are being constructed in Shuakhevi and Khulo and have an investment value of USD 300 million. The project company, Adjaristsqali Georgia LLC, has created a training center in Shuakhevi where the local population will be trained in construction related jobs. The company plans to employ 800 people on the construction site.
The construction plan of the cascade power plants
The construction of the hydroelectric power plants has created a number of problems for the local population, who, speaking to TI Georgia, expressed their dissatisfaction both with the lack of information and general failure to take precautions. The construction of the Adjaristskali hydroelectric power plant mainly affects the following villages in the Shuakhevi and Khulo Districts: Akhaldaba, Makhalakidzeebi, Chanchkhalo, Khichauri, Didadjara, Diakonidzeebi, Iakobidzeebi, Ghurta, Ghorjomeladzeebi, Kvatia, Pachkha, and Tsablana.
Before meeting with locals, TI Georgia talked with representatives of Adjaristskali Georgia, who have been very open and responsive and have made efforts to facilitate an inclusive and transparent process as the project moves ahead. The project has been underway for almost two years, and during this time the main part of the works involved the selection and survey of land plots, financial compensation negotiations and the conclusion of contracts. According to the company, the project is planned in such a way as to require the use of as few land plots as possible and to incur minimum damage to the population.
The company awards compensation for all types of land plots and awards compensation not only to people who are officially registered as the owners of the land plot but also to people who can provide evidence for their lawful ownership (for example, a person who lives on the land and has a document, such as a household book, that proves their ownership), and to people who have arbitrarily occupied land plots (i.e. somebody who claims to own the land but cannot provide documents proving the ownership).
The amount of compensation Adjaristskali Georgia pays is calculated according to the quality of the land plot, not according to the status of the ownership right. The company employs an independent expert – an auditor who calculates the price of both the land plots and fruit trees on the land. According to the representatives of Adjaristskali Georgia, the company pays possessors and owners a slighlty higher compensation than the price determined by the expert. So far, only the first part of the compensations have been paid, and final payment will take place after the company obtains the construction permit and begins the immediate construction of the power plant structures.
Village governors and trustees assisted TI Georgia in planning meetings with the locals.
The visit revealed that nearly all the villages faced similar problems, namely locals complained about:
- a lack of information;
- low compensation for real estate and fruit trees;
- delay in compensation payment;
- disruption of the drinking water supply system;
- flooding of common-use areas;
- damage to common-use areas, such as partial forest destruction.
Akhaldaba – The village consists of only about 150 households, there are common-use pastures and forests. According to the villagers, due to the power plant construction, they have been unable to use the pastures for the past year; parts of the forest was also cut down, disrupting the local firewood supply. Locals state that the compensation sum for the land was set at GEL 8, and GEL 20 for one fruit bearing tree, which they think is inadequate. In addition, the constant movement of heavy construction machinery on the village roads has caused considerable damage to houses alongside the road.
Six local inhabitants have claimed that their houses have been damaged, not to mention the road itself. In spite of this, the company has not yet conducted maintenance works to either the road or houses. Another problem concerns the water supply system which apparently was also damaged by construction works. Despite numerous repairs conducted by the locals, the system keeps being disrupted due to the heavy machinery using the road. The local population has demanded for the water supply system be repaired and protected, yet the problem remains unresolved.
Makhalakidzeebi – Villagers say that the compensation for the land is not determined according to its quality or productivity, but rather everyone is given equal compensation. The construction works might affect the local water supply, and thus they ask to set up a water supply system before the construction starts. The so-called pre-compensation sums have been distributed and contracts with the locals have been concluded. The population has not been fully compensated yet – at this stage, the construction of the power plant has not yet started in the village.
Chanchkhalo – The construction of the power plant affects around 11 families in the village; the company has already concluded contracts with them and the compensations have been paid. The families, however, are dissatisfied with the compensation sums awarded for productive lands and demand that this compensation be paid over several years, instead of a one-time lump sum. Just as in other villages, Chanchkhalo also needs its drinking water supply system repaired, and has asked the company to do so.
Khichauri – The ongoing construction works do not affect this village’s land and therefore no problems have been reported.
Didadjara – It is planned to flood the lands of the village that are not under the population’s direct ownership. However, the locals fear that if the land is flooded, they won’t be able to use the lands adjoining the submerged area, which are currently being used by the local population.
The population has approached the company with a proposal: Since there is a real danger of landslides caused by the construction, the locals have asked for compensation for damages if a landslide does occur on their land. They want corresponding guarantees to be included in the contract in advance. The company has yet to reply to this proposal. The population of Didadjara has also sent a number of requests and petitions, together with 300 signatures, to different ministries as well as the Government of Adjara.
Ghurta, Diakonidzeebi, Iakobidzeebi, and Ghorjomelidzeebi (a village with only 300 households) – The meeting with these villagers was held in the village of Ghurta. The villages are located in a landslide hazard zone. The locals are not against the construction of the power plants. Accordingly, our lawyers provided the locals with consultation about registration of ownership rights and rules and methods of expropriation and compensation.
The Skhalta Valley (Khulo District)
Tsablana, Pachkha – There are about 200 households in the villages. Both of the villages face important unresolved problems. The landowners have not been determined, and the majority of the locals have not registered their property in the Public Registry. The company that is building the power plants intends to flood a part of the land belonging to the villages. The company has offered GEL 3,600 to each household – a sum which the locals find too low. According to them, the flooding will render their lands unusable, and thus they argue for a higher compensation.
Kvatia – Despite the fact that, according to the project, the construction of the power plant is also going to affect this village, the local population says they have not been informed about the planned construction works. The villagers of Kvatia also would like to see another survey of the lands being carried out, because, as they state, the current survey drawings do not show the exact location of the land plots. This village has been offered the lowest price of land and pre-compensation sums.
The lawyers of TI Georgia also paid another visit to these villages, taking part in a meeting between the company representatives and the locals. Negotiations were centred around the same theme. This time, the population demanded to increase the compensation sum to GEL 10,000, a demand which the company rejected. There was also a disagreement about conducting a second survey of the area (the river bed, cobblestone-covered river bank, groves), since, according to the company, if they make an exception here they will have to do so elsewhere, which they state as an impossibility. When asked by the population whether the company would give them any guarantees that the construction of the power plant would not damage them or cause landslides in the mountainous area, which is already a landslide hazard zone, the company representatives presented a sort of memorandum by which they declared their obligation to compensate for any damage caused by the construction. The company also promised the locals that they would build alternative access roads to the groves that they use. However, it should be noted that the memorandum at this point does not contain such an entry (see attachment).
TI Georgia also visited Goderdzi Pass where a ski resort is being built by local government. For more background, see our blog and video from July 2012, dealing with the problems experienced by the local population there.
Goderdzi ski resort
The project started in 2012 and was accompanied by major violations of the rights of the local population. At the starting stage of the project, the authorities did not provide any information to the local population, carrying out construction works on the lands owned by the locals without asking them for permission. Later, however, the situation improved to a significant extent and as of today, 69 households have been awarded compensation of about GEL 500,000 in total.
The works are still under way. According to the company doing the construction, the first stage of the construction is supposed to finish in fall. At this stage, an investment of GEL 12.5 million has been made. In the area of the pass, in the village of Zankebi, construction works are being done on lands for which about 19 families demand compensation.
According to the construction company and the local authorities, they are studying the issue, searching for the documents proving ownership, surveying the lands, and specifying the area of construction. It is also planned to set up a Special Commission on Establishment of Ownership on Land Plots. The director of the company expressed a desire to involve the non-governmental sector in the Commission. TI Georgia will get involved in the work of the Commission and actively continue to monitor the ongoing process. If necessary, we will also ensure the protection of the rights of the local population.
Our short documentary on the project from July 2012