amendments to the water law in Serbia under emergency procedure; NGOs call for cancellation

The Renewable Energy and Environmental Regulatory Institute (RERI) has been supported by 36 organizations in its call for the cancellation of the emergency procedure in the Serbian parliament for the proposed changes to the water law, as the public was not allowed to participate, and he claimed that the bill legalized bribery.

The Government of Serbia intends to introduce direct agreements for the lease of public waters and riparian lands for the use of river deposits, namely sand and gravel, and the locations of floating structures – rafts. This is “another illegal and violent change in the laws that govern natural resources” and the public has not been informed of the changes to the water law and their participation has not been allowed, warned the Renewable Energy and Environmental Regulatory Institute (RERI).

The bill went into emergency procedure in parliament on June 25 without notice, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Economy did not publish it on its website, saying indicated the organization. It is a fundamental change in the decision-making procedure for access to public assets and it further “opens space for acts of corruption while eliminating the principle of transparency and public procurement” , according to the press release.

Rental of sources of drinking water without any criteria

The request to withdraw the amendments to the water law received the support of 36 environmental groups and civil society organisations. RERI board chairman Jovan Rajić told a press conference that the proposal would legalize bribery.

The changes are “scandalous” because waters and riparian lands, including drinking water sources, can be leased “without clear criteria” and “without procedure”, breaking “fundamental rules of competition and market”, Rajic said. He explained that the waters and shore lands of Belgrade are separated from the rest of the country and expressed the view that this decision benefits the owners of floating structures in Belgrade.

No floating structures in Belgrade Waterfront

The responsible committee of the National Assembly of Serbia is to vote on the amendments today, and they are to be debated by lawmakers tomorrow. The bill must be withdrawn for citizens to consider, according to organizations and movements including Defend the Rivers of Mount Stara Planina and the Assembly of Free Serbia. The groups have sworn to resist.

Journalist and member of the Za naš kej association Dušan Čavić pointed out that floating structures are not allowed on the Sava river next to the waterfront of Belgrade, which is a controversial luxury district under development in the part center of the city. His organization is working to enable the development of the Sava wharf in New Belgrade in accordance with the wishes of the citizens. Čavić said locals could not see the river from the floating structures on the banks.

It should be noted that the disputed amendments to the water law in Slovenia have just been rejected in a referendum, which took place thanks to the efforts of environmentalists who initiated it and helped to obtain enough signatures.

It should be mentioned that the government of Serbia has also issued a decree that allows the leasing of public agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, including the installation of renewable energy plants and the disposal of residues, ashes, slag and other dangerous and harmful substances.

He made the move amid protests over allowing Rio Tinto and other companies to search for underground lithium deposits. The industry giant is developing a mining project in Jadar, western Serbia. Activists, experts and the local population complain of procedural failures, the exclusion of the public from decision-making and the risk of water and soil pollution.

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