Construction of high-speed railway line endangers lives
Several houses in the village of Kvishkheti are on the brink of collapse due to the extensive tunnel construction currently underway for Georgia’s high-speed railway line. According to the local population, representatives of the Railway Department have demanded the local population to leave their houses immediately. No alternative residential space or compensation was offered.
The railway line’s construction has also affected and damaged those living in the villages of Shorapani and Tsiplnara in the Zestaponi Municipality. Some have been left without agricultural land, others without roads. Furthermore, the layers of rock alongside the tunnel have started to subside and the residential houses built on them now face destruction. The gravity of the situation increased on April 15 of this year when a chasm, caused by a tunnel's collapse, opened up.
JSC Georgian Railway launched the project "High-Speed Railway" at the beginning of 2011. It aims to increase the train’s speed by modernizing the mountain pass region of the Tbilisi - Batumi railway line. It is part of a joint project, valued at GEL 597,732,900, between Georgian Railway and the Chinese company "China Railway 23rd Bureau Group Co, Ltd".
Representatives of Transparency International Georgia (TI Georgia) visited Kvishkheti, met with its villagers, and inspected the damaged houses. They established that due to the ongoing construction and explosions, the following scenarios have occurred:
- Several houses are now unfit for living. For several months, the construction company was paying the rent for one of the families affected by the project. Today, however, the rent is no longer being paid and the family is living in life threatening conditions;
- 6 families living beside the tunnel face danger. On 15 April, 2013, due to another explosion, the land tunnel collapsed and formed what is known as a “subsidence funnel”. A void emerged under the land into which plunged not only the rock layers but also the residential houses beside the tunnel.
- Owing to the lowering of stratums, almost all houses in the village territory have been damaged or ruined in some way.
The villagers informed us that they have requested several state agencies to come and examine the issue and resolve the issues. What is required is a group of geological experts to establish the causal link and determine the relevant compensation. This group, however, has still not yet been formed or deployed.
Many villagers of Shorapani and Tsiplnara were left either without agricultural lands, or without the motorway.
One resident of Shorapani, Mevlud Khmelidze, cannot use his own plot of agricultural land since the railway line will cross a fraction of the plot. The rest of his land is being used for parking and moving around the heavy equipment. The owner declared that although he was offered to execute the lease agreement, the company would not specify a precise amount of money. Due to the changes made to the land however, such as raising the land level artificially with earth, it is now impossible to revert the land back to its original purpose.
Space for the construction of the railway line was created by blowing up the strata of rock, causing the land to collapse. This also severely narrowed one family’s only operational road; one section being damaged to such an extent that it has now been wiped out completely. Neither the railway nor the construction company have offered this family compensation and/or the arrangement of an alternative road.
Explosions in the village of Tsiplnara have demolished the only car-worthy road connecting. According to the locals, although both the Municipality Gamgeoba and Georgian Railway’s management have been notified about the problems, no steps have been taken by either party to rectify the situation
TI Georgia actively cooperated with Georgian Railway in the compensation procedures for locals affected by the construction in the Kharagauli District. We found that the process was carried out in full observance of the law, and that the citizens were given adequate compensation. It is clear, however, that a number of problems have emerged after the initial phase of construction. Residential houses and land plots have been damaged, compensation for which has not been covered by the project.
As Georgian Railway has explained and pointed out in the contract, it is the Chinese company who is responsible for compensating damages inflicted on third persons. In the case of Kvishkheti, they initially relocated victims to other houses and paid their rent. Since January, 2013, however, they have stopped paying without any justification or explanations. It is still unclear as to what are the construction company and Georgian Railway’s plans are in respect to the damaged houses or land plots in Kvishkheti and the other villages.
TI Georgia calls on:
1. Georgian Railway and the company "China Railway 23rd Bureau Group Co, Ltd", to immediately suspend the ongoing construction works in Kvishkheti village of the Khashuri Municipality. Relocate those who are living in houses that are endangering their lives, and provide them with an alternative residential space or adequate compensation.
2. The investor to swiftly identify and evaluate the land required for the construction of the railway line between the villages of Shorapani and Tsiplnara. They should then either compensate those affected, or in the case of a respective agreement, to execute lease agreements on the land used by the construction company. It is also important that they keep those roads necessary for the rural population secure and functioning.
3. The Government of Georgia to monitor the observance of contractual terms.
4. The Partnership Fund should exercise its shareholder powers and ensure that Georgian Railways fully investigates what happened in Kharagauli, who is responsible for this damage and fully compensates these victims.