Renewables and Environmental Regulatory Institute (RERI) was backed by 36 organizations in its call for the cancelation of the urgent procedure in Serbia’s parliament for the proposed changes to the Water Law as the public was prevented from participating, and it claimed the bill legalizes corruption.
The Government of Serbia intends to introduce direct agreements for the lease of public waters and waterside land for the utilization of river deposition, namely sand and gravel, and the locations for floating structures – rafts. It is “another illegal and violent alteration of the laws that regulate natural resources” and the public wasn’t informed of the changes to the Water Law and its participation wasn’t enabled, the Renewables and Environmental Regulatory Institute (RERI) warned.
The bill entered an urgent procedure in parliament on June 25 without any notice, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Economy didn’t publish it on its website, the organization said. It is an essential change to the decision-making procedure for access to public goods and it “additionally opens space for acts of corruption while eliminating the principle of transparency and public procurement,” according to the statement.
Lease of sources of drinking water without any criteria
The demand for the withdrawal of the amendments to the Water Law received support from 36 environmental groups and civil society organizations. Chairman of the Board of RERI Jovan Rajić said at a press conference that the proposition would legalize corruption.
The changes are “scandalous” as waters and waterside land including sources of drinking water can be leased “without clear criteria” and “without procedure,” breaching “the basic rules of competition and the market,” Rajić stated. He explained the waters and waterside land in Belgrade are being separated from the rest of the country and expressed the view that the move benefits the owners of floating structures in Belgrade.
No floating structures in Belgrade Waterfront
The responsible committee in the National Assembly of Serbia is set to decide on the amendments today, and they are scheduled to be debated by lawmakers tomorrow. The bill must be withdrawn for the citizens to be able to review it, according to the organizations and movements including the Defend the Rivers of Mt. Stara Planina and the Assembly of Free Serbia. The groups vowed to resist.
Journalist and member of the Za naš kej association Dušan Čavić pointed out that floating structures aren’t allowed on the Sava river next to the Belgrade Waterfront, which is a controversial luxury district under development in the central part of the city. His organization is working to enable the development of the Sava Quay in New Belgrade in line with the citizens’ wishes. Čavić said the people living in the area can’t see the river from the floating structures on the banks.
Of note, the disputed amendments to the Waters Act in Slovenia have just been rejected at a referendum, which was held thanks to the efforts of environmentalists who initiated it and helped get enough signatures.
It should be mentioned that the Government of Serbia also issued a decree that enables the lease of public agricultural land for non-agricultural use including the installation of renewable energy plants and the disposal of tailings, ash, slag and other hazardous and harmful substances.
It opted for the move in the midst of protests against enabling Rio Tinto and other companies to research underground lithium deposits. The industry giant is developing a mining project in Jadar in Serbia’s west. Activists, experts and the local population complain of procedural breaches, the exclusion of the public from decision making and the risks of water and soil pollution.