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Why we are building the Georgian-Russian highway across the Khada gorge

Tuesday, 14 December 2021 12:23 hits 1458 times

Everybody in Khada gorge knew that none of the houses would be demolished to build Kvesheti-Kobi new road. One house in Tskere is already destroyed, and residents of Rostiani are facing compulsory relocation, even though 692 pages of environmental impact assessment never mention it. The prosecutor’s office started an investigation against the residents of village Arakhveti, blaming them for fraudulently registering their ancestors’ land. These land lots are on the territory of Kvesheti-Kobi road. The prosecutor’s office demands villagers to return the compensation and land to the state themselves, or they will be arrested. The project consists of eight villages, but only three of them had several residents resist the process. They have addressed the court, but the building has already begun.

 

Demolition and the compulsory relocation

Old Mtiulian house, built with stone and decorated with wooden balcony, stood in Tskere since the 1950s. Niko Zakaidze moved to Rustavi 20 years ago, when his children should enter the school. In Khada gorge, there was no school anymore. Since then, they have only visited the old house in summer. They learned months ago that their ancestor’s homes should be demolished. The Roads Department of Georgia repurchased the building. On December 4, the bulldozer demolished the house.

 „Demolition is a negative word. They were not demolishing; they were dismantling it. The owner can bring the materials everywhere. They asked us for technical support; they were part of the negotiation. Demolition is a compulsory action; what we did was dismantling“, – Salome Tsurtsumia, Deputy Chairperson at Roads Department of Georgia, says the relocation is a kind gesture from the government. However, it seems a compulsory process: the village is situated under the mountain. In 200 meters above, a 15-meters-wide road is being built. The excavated landmass is gathered nearby; large rocks roll down, aiming for the only house where the only permanent residents, Niko Rostiashvili and Sofio Aptsiauri, live.

Granpa Niko points to the landslide on the other bank of the river:

„This is village Korogho. They have never had a road. Lately, only one man was living there, and finally, he left too. Soon he returned, cut the road for the sled, and continued living. Then a landslip from the mountain destroyed the road. The man left for good and now lives in Aragvispiri. Thus, Koroghlo became a deserted village. Our village is facing the same fate. It will throw us in the river if they cannot contain the mountain they cut. I was afraid of avalanches, now the landslide added“.

Why could the Roads Department not (or did not) foresee the potential risks for Rostiani?

„It was evident from the start that the project would affect the village situated in the middle of the construction. So they wanted to show to Asian Development Bank management that there were no potential issues, cover the danger”

Manana Kochladze, executive director of „Green Alternative“, thinks this is the reason why the relocation is not mentioned in documents“.

Grandpa Niko did not hesitate to appeal to the court. National Forensics Bureau examined the place and evaluated buildings as unstable. Only after that, the Roads Department offer locals compensation. The deputy chairperson thinks it was a social event, not a compulsory relocation.

 „This village is not in a zone of relocation. There are only seven houses, the majority of which are unlivable. We plan to compensate locals for strengthening existing homes or building new ones. This is a kind gesture, not connected to the road building. The road cannot affect the social event“.

In October, Nikoloz Rostiashvili was informed that to receive compensation, the land his house is built on should be registered under his name in the National Agency of Public Registry.

 

The investigation against Arakhvetians

This was why the villagers addressed the National Agency of Public Registry to register the land left from their ancestors. After road construction, the prosecutor’s office started the investigation against Arakhvetians.

Nugzar Burduli was interrogated in the Gori prosecutor’s office:

„I am accused of fraudulent appropriation of the land. They told me I should admit the crime and return the land to the state. They accuse villagers who signed the paper, indicating that this land lot used to own to my ancestors. They warned me that my case would end quickly in case of admission. So I refused to admit it. According to the law, I have registered the land; no villagers are against it. Everyone here knows who owns what“.

Iuri Burduli was interrogated in the Gudauri prosecutor’s office.

„The inspector said the land could not have agricultural meaning, as it is situated on the mountain slope. I asked them how they measure the declination if there is a guideline, how many degrees it should be, but nobody answered. I registered the land in 2020, according to the law. I also have the old acceptance certificate. Mtiuleti is a land-starved region; our ancestors used every piece of the land. Only after the construction started, the government find time for us. Now they will arrest me, take away my land and money, put me in jail“.

Iuri Burduli was also warned that admission would ease his penalty. He was two options, plea bargain and shunning. In case of refusal, he will be put on trial and imprisoned for nine years.

Vakhtang Burduli registered 190m2 land last year. However, before the Roads Department repurchased it, the prosecutor’s office started an investigation against Vakhtang.

Davit Makaridze, a judge in Gori District Court, granted the prosecutor’s appeal and attached land lots.

„Shida Kartli and Mtskheta-Mtianeti district prosecutor’s office started investigations against 20 residents of Arakhveti“.

                                             

Expropriation

Only one family in the entire gorge refused to sell his land to the Roads Department. Giga Chokheli lives 100 meters away from the road. One of the land lots owned by the family will be on the other side. Giga met with representatives of the Road Department, who offered him an to enlarge the area and sell the land for a price of  20 GEL per m2. Giga thinks they tried to bribe him. He refused for two reasons - he does not want to sell the land, he is against the road, and if he accepts the offer, he may become accused of fraud.

After refusal, Roads Department appealed to the court to confiscate two land lots owned by Chokheli, 1442 m2 in total. The court granted the appeal. Giga appealed against the sentence in the Tbilisi Court of Appeals.

          

Benefits of the road

The court granted the appeal to expropriate the land in six days. However, the court of appeals has not yet started considering the case two years since.

„Manifesting the road and tunnel as remarkable objects are unacceptable“, – Manana Kochladze says the project was accepted without a proper study of the cultural heritage – „It was revealed that almost 130 cultural heritage objects were not involved in the initial inventory-taking“.

In 2020, International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) enlisted Khada Gorge in the list of heritage at risk.

Among the significant problems in the complaint “Green Alternative” appealed to the Asian Development Bank is the damage of the gorge and spurning of alternative routes.

The complaint was accepted, but it was studied later than usual due to the coronavirus. Experts from ADB visited Georgia in October-November.

We asked Manana Kochladze what can be changed after the construction is active.

„The tunnel is the least problematic issue. Roads and bridges are important. It’s crucial to understand where additional infrastructure is necessary or not. Experts need to study if there were alternatives, but as we see, it is already late“.

The total value of Kvesheti-Kobi road is 1.20000000 GEL. The construction was funded by a loan from European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Asian Development Bank. The project should end in 2024.

Salome Tsurtsumia, Deputy Chairperson at Roads Department of Georgia, says one of the reasons for the new road was to increase the carrying capacity. Khvesheti-Kobi section is a part of the international Georgia-Russia connecting road. In winter, snow and avalanches force the road closed, and standing trucks create long chains on both sides.

A safe road is necessary for Khada Gorge, where most residents live in summer only. Unfortunately, the road is impassable in winter, forcing locals to leave the place.

Manana Kochladze notes speak of the economic impact of the road:

„The document by Asian Development Bank itself says that the transit policy in Georgia is non-efficient.

The money transporters pay almost 70% less than we deliver from the budget. The government says transit increases economic profit for the country, but in fact, our taxpayers subsidize international traffic”.

Besides, we damage Khada. The gorge situated near Tbilisi has significant cultural meaning. Improper studies jeopardize local cultural heritage and do not benefit the place's residents. They would not even build the road for locals if not for their fight. This debt is ours to pay. Of course, the road will positively impact Gudauri's development, but it could be built in another, less significant gorge.

 „The documentation including technical and economic details, alternatives, and advantages of this road is not public anymore“.

The Chairman of the Roads Department deemed that documentation as commercial secret on September 24, 2020, after „Green Alternative“ requested to examine it. NGO appealed against this decision, but it was never considered in court.

Kvesheti-Kobi section is a part of the road from Natakhtari to Larsi (Georgian-Russian border). The relocation seems more problematic on the Natakhtari-Zhinvali section, as it is more densely populated.

„In the technical-economic study, there are several alternatives indicated. The document will be a commercial secret until finalization so that locals are not misinformed about details or have groundless expectations,“ -  explains Salome Tsurtsumia.

What will Khada Gorge receive in exchange for the project? According to the promise: the road from Kvesheti to Tskere, connected to the central highway; new water supply, restored reservoir, and pipes; development plan for the gorge, if people start to return, it does not develop chaotically.

Ilo Kardava

Reporter-Translator at mtisambebi.ge, holds a bachelor’s degree in Politics from Tbilisi State University. He works on political and social issues, essential events from Greater and Lesser Caucasus regions. E-mail: iloqardava@gmail.com

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