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BUILD AT ANY COST! STAVROPOL AUTHORITIES ARE TRYING TO CIRCUMVENT THE COURT’S ORDER BY USING

21 december 2020
Thanks to the efforts of residents of the Caucasus Mineral Waters, the Regional Prosecutor's Office and appeals of WWF-Russia to the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation, the Third Appeals Court considered and recognized invalid the article of the law of Stavropol region "Concerning specially protected areas" involving the potential loss of conservation status of protected areas. However, the Stavropol authorities are trying to circumvent the Court’s order by replacing the word "loss" with "abolition" in the new law.

At the end of November, WWF-Russia highlighted the situation in Stavropol region, where the government of the subject plans to build a Cycle Track through the Beshtaugorskiy Sanctuary. The regional government went against Federal regulations and, contrary to the opinion of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation, the Regional Prosecutor's Office and the Presidential Council of the Russian Federation, excluded existing roads from the Sanctuary removing their conservation status.

The building of 75 km length of paved cycling track with stalls, cafés, shopping kiosks, Wi-Fi points, etc. will definitely lead to the degradation of the Sanctuary, the destruction of Red Data Book plants, the weakening of the conservation regime of protected areas and will cause serious damage to the ecosystem of Stavropol region. Such conclusions were reached by the Presidential Council for the Development on Civil Society and Human Rights of the Russian Federation after a retreat session, an environmental survey and an assessment of the area.

Who supported the residents of the Caucasus Mineral Waters?

In addition to the Human Rights Council, the activists of Stavropol region were supported by the Regional Prosecutor's Office and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation, which did not agree to change the borders of the Beshtaugorskiy Sanctuary and withdraw the territory of 203 hectares from its composition. WWF also supported activists who fight for the Nature of their native region and appeal to the courts about this.

"After activists from the Stavropol region approached us, telling the essence of the problem and how many government levels were passed, we sent an official letter to the Prosecutor General's Office of the Russian Federation with a request to conduct a detailed investigation into this case, the need for environmental expertise and the cancellation of actions of the regional authorities that violate existing laws," - explains Elena Cherkasova, Senior Forest Officer  of Russian Caucasus Ecoregional Office WWF-Russia.

The response of the Prosecutor General’s Office

In response to a letter from WWF-Russia, the Prosecutor General's Office of the Russian Federation replied that "...in order to prompt consideration of the stated arguments of the appeal forwarded to the Prosecutor’s Office of the Stavropol region and its copy – to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation for the audit ...".

What has the Court ordered?

After considering the appeal of residents of the Caucasus Mineral Waters, the Third Appeals Court of Sochi, which was attended by a representative of the Prosecutor General's Office of the Russian Federation, decided to cancel the article "Concerning specially protected areas", which had been providing the possibility of losing the environmental status of protected areas at the initiative of the subject until then. And since the Court ordered that this article is invalid from the date of adoption, all changes to the boundaries are canceled.

It is no longer possible, in crude terms, to cut off a piece of land of a Reserve or a Natural Park and say that now you can do anything there. Thus, in order to deprive a part of the land of a special protected status, the region is obliged to apply for approval of such actions to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation.

The response of the Stavropol government

The Stavropol government did not want to accept the court's order. On December 15, the Governor of Stavropol region Vladimir Vladimirov urgently initiated the introduction and consideration the amendments to the law of Stavropol region "Concerning specially protected areas" by the Regional Duma. The essence of the changes is simple - the document abolishes Article 4 (part 8) of the regional law, which was canceled by the Third Appeals Court and proposes to adopt a new article 4 instead with the wording "Abolition of specially protected areas of regional significance". In fact the Governor is trying to introduce the same article intp the Law, replacing the word "loss" with the word "abolition", despite the fact that the letter of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation stated: "... the legislation of the Russian Federation, the abolishment, change of boundaries of protected areas, which specifically excludes areas previously included in the protected areas, or removing protected areas of regional significance are not provided...".

"The adoption of such an article is illegal and meaningless, from the legislative point of view. Even if we assume that the Regional Duma will impudently accept this wording, it will still not do anything," - explains Georgiy Legkobitov, a member of the Association of Russian Lawyers, representing the interests of local residents. – After the adoption of such changes, the Prosecutor's Office will immediately file a claim to the Court and an application for interim measures, which the court considers on the day of filing the claim. In addition, we should not forget the essence of the law "Concerning specially protected areas" is to preserve nature and special territories, and not to abolish their protected status."

What happens next?

Despite the Сourt's order, residents of Stavropol region and WWF-Russia are expecting answers from the regional Prosecutor's Office and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation, which continue to work and make inspections on this case. The regulatory inspectors and representatives of the Federal agencies of executive authority have yet to understand the actions of the Stavropol government, assess them and, in any case, take measures of the Prosecutor's response to the fact of illegal actions. In addition, after the Court's order, the Prosecutor's Office is likely to appeal and cancel all decisions on the loss of the protection status and other changes since 2014, based on the law repealed.

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