The First “Greens” Court Victories That Have Been Obtained in Russia.
Last year was marked by two events, the importance of which is difficult to estimate for this country. The first of the two important events was the hearing of the “Case of the Forest” in the Supreme Court. The second important event was the Decree of President B.N. Eltsin, in which he accepted that his previous decisions--related to the establishment and building of a speedy highway between St. Petersburg and Moscow--had lost their conviction and support.
In the last two years since the inception of the decree on “Ecological expertise” (November 30,1995), the Government has converted more than 30,000 Hs of forest territories in 72 subjects of the Russian Federation into non-forest territories.
On 17 February 1998, a case on the defense of social and ecological interests was won in the Supreme Court for the first time in the history of Russia. The court decreed that 12 orders of the Government of RF on the conversion of forestlands of the first group into a non-forest category (in order to use them with an aim not connected with the proper conservation of forestry) were not valid. All of the orders going back to 1996 and 1997 were claimed unlawful and were abrogated. In half a year the Supreme Court repealed its decision, sending the case for a new examination. The Government, however, kept issuing its forest orders with confidence. Merely four days after the Court decision, on 21 February 1998, another unlawful document was issued.
If the attempts to gain abrogation of the government’s issues in the Supreme Court fail, public representatives are ready to appeal to the International Court.
The Russian joint-stock company “Vysokoskorostnye magistraly” (VSM) was established according to the order of the President of Russia, with 90% of its shares belonging to the state. To start the realization of the project “VSM St. Petersburg--Moscow” it was necessary for the company to undergo federal law-required ecological expertise. This commenced in the summer of 1995. Twice the experts found it necessary “to send [the project] to revision”. Both times, the project was prolonged for far-fetched reasons in the hope that experts would change their minds and vote in favor of the project. The third verdict, however, was the same.
The VSM highway was going to cut through Valday National Park and a number of reserves, to go through swampy areas unsuitable for laying down rails for a highspeed road. In order to build the highway according to technological standards it was necessary to invest an enormous sum of money. The damage to these unique territories, however, would be appalling.
This lawsuit to the Supreme Court, which was served on 27 February 1997, caused an unprecedented reaction among this country’s people. Individuals from all over the country--from Kaliningrad to Khabarovsk--demanded the abrogation of both the President’s orders and the Government’s issues on building and financing of the VSM St. Petersburg-Moscow.
It would seem that, with the decree having been abrogated and construction having been stopped, there is no reason for the court procedures to continue. Why, therefore, are they nevertheless being insisted upon? The answer to this question is simple. The grounds to amend the decree on the building of the VSM are not pertinent to the unlawfulness of the given document, which was adopted before experts had conducted their estimates. The decree concerning the building of the VSM became invalid only as a result of the famous August events; the situation in the country at the time didn’t allow for such an expensive project to be underway. But if the Court does not recognize the decrees of the President and the issues of the Government on VSM as being valid, the case will take on a whole new meaning, and the reanimation of the project will become much more difficult. The number of plaintiffs for the case increases every day, and the people--because they lack faith in, and therefore do not rely upon, the President’s decision--want to legally put an end to this project forever.
After the progress of the project had been halted, everything was done so as to allow part of the financial resources to still remain in the hands of those who initially expected to gain from the project. The fact of the matter is that the President of RF--having admitted that specific sections in the order on VSM had been rendered invalid (specifically, paragraphs N2 and N3, relating to the regulations of the confiscation of lands on which to build the highway)--decided to allow paragraph N1 of the order to remain valid (this paragraph refers specifically to which land, buildings, and other constructions along the path of the VSM would be included as property of the Russian joint-stock company called “High Speedways” (RAO VSM). The President--having admitted the insolvency of the idea of building the VSM St. Petersburg-Moscow and rendering certain paragraphs concerning
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