One year after a landslide destroyed thirteen houses the Kolubara mining company continues to dump waste in the same area without information from its investigations forthcoming. Locals fear that more landslides may occur. Bankwatch member group CEKOR has now increased pressure on the company and the EBRD.
Nikola Perusic, Serbian campaigner | 16 April 2014
It’s almost one year ago that in May 2013 the overburden of field B of the Kolubara lignite mine in Serbia collapsed and caused a landslide that destroyed seven houses and one road in the town of Junkovac (Bankwatch reported). Until now, the mining company’s investigations have not yielded any results. Neither have responses been made to the requests for information by residents and by Serbian Bankwatch member group CEKOR (Center for Ecology and Sustainable Development).
Instead of continuing the apparently futile efforts to communicate with the Kolubara mining company or the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (one of the company’s financiers), CEKOR pressed criminal charges on March 28 against the company for endangering public safety in Junkovac. Our case is based on a statement by the Department for Mining Inspection in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Mining and Spatial planning that confirms the Kolubara company has overloaded the dump field that caused the landslide.
Already years before the incident, residents of Junkovac had been warning their municipality and the Kolubara company that cracks were occurring in their houses. Yet no adequate reply was forthcoming.
An image from last year’s devastation.
When the landslide happened, CEKOR quickly alarmed relevant institutions about the incident:
- We approached the Department for Mining Inspection in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Mining and Spatial Planning requesting urgent investigations and the identification of responsible persons (see results below).
- We requested the Serbian Ombudsman Saša Janković to visit Junkovac but did not hear back from him.
- We alarmed the state electricity company EPS, the parent company of Kolubara mining, without receiving a reply.
We also approached the EBRD on several occasion, but although the bank reacted, it did so slowly and without any concrete outcome so far that would put pressure on the mining company, let alone offer comfort for the people in Junkovac (see more details below).
Mining inspection confirmed misconduct
On August 1 the head of the department for mining inspection, Mr. Siniša Tanacković, stated in the report from the investigations [rs] (own translation)
“The deposit of material in the eastern part of the dumping site of field B was not in accordance with the [dump site] project, it was deposited above limit.”
Answering to our subsequent question whether the Ministry of Natural Resources will further investigate, state secretary Tomislav Šubaranović answered on September 2 that the mining company itself is leading the ongoing investigation. He added that further steps will be taken but nothing has happened since.
In the meantime the people in Junkovac are afraid that more landslides might occur. Since we have no reason to believe that the Kolubara mining company has taken steps to rectify the situation and reduce further risks, CEKOR saw no other alternative than to take legal steps. Maybe the threat of legal consequences will make the company consider more carefully the way it treats affected communities around its mine fields.
Little reaction from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development
The EBRD is supporting EPS and its subsidiary the Kolubara mining company for a long time already and has had ample opportunities to witness conflicts between the company and local residents. The EBRD also finances a project on mining field C, adjacent to and almost not physically separated from field B (the field from which the overburden of the landslide originated).
With regards to the landslide in Junkovac, we approached the EBRD on several occasions.
In a response letter from November 4, 2013, the EBRD assured it was monitoring the situation and urging the mining company to help locals.
“The company has also informed us that they took action to re-house the 13 families directly affected, and are now arranging for the permanent relocation and compensation of these households along with a further 24 households in the vicinity. EBRD will request updates on the situation, and will continue to urge Kolubara management to ensure that affected families are treated fairly and that steps are taken to avoid any re-occurance.”
Four months later, the mining company has paid for the destroyed houses but a number of families living close to the landslide are still in fear and it is unclear how many of them will be relocated or when this will happen. In the meantime, the mining company is apparently further increasing the risk of another incident. According to a source in the company that wants to remain anonymous, the company increased the number of bulldozers that are dumping soil in the Junkovac perimiter from one to three: bulldozers No. 6 and No. 9 dumping materials from field D, bulldozer No. 5 from field B.
Although the EBRD is not affected by our criminal charge agains Kolubara, we hope to provoke more commitment by the bank to this and other cases. So far it is entirely unclear at what point – if at all – the EBRD begins to question the legitimacy of a client and withdraws from further cooperation.
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