Tbilisi Railway Bypass Bypasses Landowner’s Rights
01 September, 2011
Tbilisi Railway Bypass Bypasses Landowner’s Rights

Tbilisi Railway Bypass project that is implemented by the state owned Georgian Railway Ltd, is accused of illegal expropriation of lands and intimidation of landowners in the frames of resettlement plan. Georgian Railway swears it is not guilty. 

The fourth phase of expropriation of lands within the framework of the resettlement plan of Tbilisi Railway Bypass Project, which is tentatively estimated at EUR 300 million reportedly started about a fortnight ago, Zakaria Kutsnashvili, Head of non-governmental organization Law for People, informed

Georgian Journal.   Kutsnashvili protects interests of about 100 landowners whose rights of ownership were violated by the resettlement plan of Georgian Railway (GR). According to him, rights of more than 860 proprietors have been violated by the resettlement plan that stretches from one end of the capital to the other along 27 kilometers.  GR had been offering much lower than market price to landowners  and forcing reluctant landowners to sign transaction through intimidation methods.

GR undertook the bypass project to discharge the city of environmentally-related problems and noise as well as make railway transportation more comfortable.  The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) co-finances the project by EUR 100 million and European Neighborhood Investment Fund (ENIF) donates EUR 8.5 million worth technical assistance and grants. However the strong provision for funding is compliance of resettlement plan with the EBRD’s environmental and social requirements based on international standards. These standards first of all include disbursement of fairly calculated compensations to the affected landowners.

But proprietors affected by the resettlement process claim GR underestimated market prices for the negotiated lands, and as far as it has a right of expropriation implements illegal expropriation in fact thanks to the state and court support. According to Kutsnashvili, GR undertook policy of intimidation before the court empowered it by expropriation right and forced 630 victims to sign so called “volunteer” land hand-over transactions and started land-acquisition based on this allegedly legal paper-work  in four phases since February of 2011 up to date. The second phase was in March-April, the third phase in this past June and the fourth phase launched just recently. About 17 people contacted Kutsnashvili and claimed on the illegal expropriation.

“The violation methods did not change however. If municipality sells lands for GEL 20 per square meter GR offers just GEL 6 in lands of the similar market value. There are several co-owners in some cases but GR pays compensation only to one. Moreover, the major part [90%] of the questioned lands are agriculture and railway track dissects many of them in two-three parts that makes them useless for farming and gardening. According to Georgian law, GR must pay 100% of compensation for all sections of the dissected land plot but it pays only for one and even this one is underpaid. GR calls people to the police stations and forces them to sign a transaction that violates their property rights, but most people fear and sign that diminishes number of protesting victims officially but it never means that they stroke fair transactions.” Kutsnashvili said.

On the other hand government upholds the GR to get through with the illegal expropriation process as soon as possible.  The court is responsible to grant expropriation right to any state body according to Georgian law. But the state body has a right to appeal to court only after it gets a status of expropriator from the minister of economy.  However, GR had a shorter route to this end. Vera Kobalia, minister of economy of Georgia, in her order issued in this past June directly granted the GR with the expropriation right thus encroaching on the court’s competence.

To find a fair treatment part of the offended proprietors appealed to the EBRD for help. The EBRD sent an independent audit  to check whether land acquisition, compensation and resettlement activities carried out by GR comply with EBRD requirements.

“This audit has led to a number of recommendations and questions to GR. We are currently expecting GR’s final response on these questions and implementation of recommendations contained in the audit report,” The EBRD commented to GJ. The Bank did not disclose details of questions and recommendations however under the pretext that the audit was undertaken as part of the project implementation and is an internal tool that the EBRD used in response to some complaints which came from members of the public.

“The audit’s findings are not planned for public disclosure at this time, but they will be used to find a solution acceptable to all parties,” The EBRD source said.

According to Nina Phkhakadze, Head of Legal department at GR, the resettlement plan that is one of the preconditions to get the EBRD funding is already through and GR may appeal to the EBRD for the loan transfer any time. She assures that “the EBRD independent audit did not discover any serious infringement and that the compensations were disbursed in full compliance with the Georgian law as well as the EBRD’s environmental, social policy and resettlement requirements.”

The EBRD meantime accentuated that “the EBRD to date did not disburse any part of the loan. Per the loan agreement such disbursements are conditional to satisfactory resolution of land acquisition issues, amongst other conditions.”

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