Itkhvisi village of the western Georgian town of Chiatura, long-embattled by its mining industry, has been left in disarray after twelve families had their homes heavily damaged or collapsed within a span of two weeks.
In total, about 95 families report some damage to their property, Chiatura Mayor’s Office told Civil.ge.
Seventeen families affected by the landslides have been reallocated with the local government subsidizing their rents.
While the locals see the culprit in the Georgian Manganese, a company running mining in Chiatura alongside its affiliates and subsidiaries, the firm and government officials have urged to hold back before specialists prepare a report on the root causes of the damage. They arrived in the village today to conduct an investigation.
The Georgian Manganese issued a statement on Facebook claiming it does not mine in the residential areas.
“Nevertheless, the company is actively communicating with all relevant authorities to select the form and type of assistance,” the Georgian Manganese said, insisting it has always acted in accordance with its “strong corporate social responsibility policy.”
The company claimed unspecified “geological processes” developed in the area in the 2000s, before its coming to Chiatura in 2007, forcing it to avoid mining there. It suggested effects of mining works in the 1980s and 1990s could lie at the root of the damage.
Civil Society Organizations React
Civil Society Organizations – the Social Justice Centre, Georgian Young Lawyers Association, and Green Alternative – in a joint statement have called out the company for the habit of brushing off its own responsibility and linking the damage to past extraction, or natural geological processes.
In the absence of relocation and accommodation standards for ensuring fair compensation for mining-affected communities, the watchdogs said, the company often uses “direct and often informal negotiations” with families.
“Residents left without state agencies and legal leverage are forced to agree to unfair, meager compensation,” they noted.
The watchdogs said years of erroneous decisions and damaging practices, among others, have made it impossible to separate extraction zones and residential areas.
“The Georgian Manganese and its subcontractors extract manganese on pastures and roads, in villages, next to homes, even in backyards,” they stressed.
The organizations also slammed the authorities that fail to monitor the company and its sub-contractors, in that leaving villages in Chiatura to face “constant threats and fear.”
The civil society outfits also pointed to “extremely vague legal regulation” that makes it easier for the company to avoid liability. The Georgian Manganese, they explained, extracts resources through its subcontractors, while the company is managed by a special state manager, leaving it outside of the scope of legal regulation.
The organizations, referring to the specialists’ investigation, underlined the importance of involving independent field experts in the process and urged state agencies – the National Agency of Mines and Sub-Agency Department of Environmental Supervision to take responsibility for the process.
The Georgian Manganese also faced protests from Chiatura locals of the Shukruti village last year. The residents of the upper Imereti village protested for more than 100 days over mining activities damaging their homes, with some sewing their mouths shut in front of the U.S. Embassy in Georgia over local and central government authorities “lack of interest” in their grievances.
The locals and the company eventually reached an agreement.
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