The National Agency of Mines stated on February 6 that the activities of one of the companies licensed to explore and mine manganese ore in the mountainous village of Shkmeri in the western Racha region, Technology 2021, have been suspended over violations of its licensing agreement.
The Agency claimed it was tasked by Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili to look into the activities of Technology 2021 as well as MN North, two companies that share majority shareholder and leadership licensed to explore and mine in Shkmeri.
It did not provide specific details over the possible violations uncovered upon examining the former, also noting the latter had not yet carried out any activities.
According to the statement, the Agency has sent a protocol about the alleged breaches to the Oni Magistrate Court, which has yet to hold a hearing. The state body highlighted that as per the law, Technology 2021 could be fined and given time to adhere to the terms of its license.
The Agency also stressed that the state will not grant any further licenses on mining in Shkmeri village.
The statement came on Sunday evening after a group of Shkmeri activists opposing mining in their village organized a minor rally in Tbilisi, their first in the capital.
The protesters are demanding to void the two ten-year mineral exploration and extraction licenses granted to the two companies, which share a majority shareholder and leadership.
Watchdogs slam the Agency
The Social Justice Center and the Green Alternative, civil society organizations backing the Shkmeri locals’ cause, argued the statement by the Agency was misleading.
The watchdogs recalled that the state body had actually examined the activities of the mining company on November 5, 2021 as per the locals’ demand supported by the Green Alternative.
By omitting the event from the statement, the CSOs said the Agency “creates a false impression that the works were inspected now, with the PM’s instruction.”
The CSOs further highlighted that it was unclear from the statements which “legal levers” the Agency could pull to deliver on its promise that further mining licenses would not be granted in Shkmeri.
The watchdogs reiterated their call for the two companies’ licenses to be terminated so that mining activities cannot renew in Shkmeri.
In this context, the statement also recalled that the Economy Ministry on January 25 refused to satisfy the administrative appeal by the Social Justice Center and the Green Alternative demanding to terminate the agreements for contravening the provisions of the UN’s 1998 Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters.
Alleged breaches by Technology 2021
While the National Agency of Mines itself has not discussed specifics, a Facebook page supporting the local activists called Shkmeri on December 30 published the Agency’s undated report summarizing the findings of the November 5 examination of the Technology 2021’s activities.
According to the document, the inspection found that the company had been already extracting manganese ore instead of carrying out explorations as permitted under its current licensing terms. Under the existing permits, the company has three years to explore the manganese deposits in the area and needs to update the license before turning to extracts.
In addition, the inspection said that the company had not submitted an evaluation about the impact on “emerald networks” of areas of special conservation interest to the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture.
According to the document, the company had neither gone through the scoping procedure needed for identifying the content and extent of the environmental information necessary for environmental impact assessment.
Besides, the company had not arranged drilling sites according to its plan and had not engaged in geological exploration drillings that had to be carried out throughout 2021, according to the report.
The text further highlighted that the company performed its work on a private land plot without its owner’s permission
The document said thata protocol on the breaches of licensing agreement, under Georgia’s Administrative Code Article 57/3(2) — violations of the conditions of a mining license or a license for exploitation of mineral resources, envisaging a fine of GEL 2,000 (USD 670)– was drafted and sent to Oni Magistrate Court on November 15.
Technology 2021 and MN North, received licenses in a rushed procedure in Summer 2021, with companies, in particular, having been registered in the public registry only four days before getting the permits.
The authorities’ decision to award the permits was met with protests from Shkmeri locals and their supporters, who object to manganise mining in the area covering around 150 hectares (1.5 square km) of their village and nearby lands.
Previously, the Social Justice Center and Green Alternative, supporting the Shkmeri natives, argued on October 26 that the authorities have used “repressive measures” against the locals to secure the lands needed for exploration and mining works.