In the southern part of the Republika Srpska, one of the two entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a private investor took an advantage of the health crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and started constructions on the nearly untouched rivers, Bjelava and Mala Bjelava, without the necessary permits. The illegal construction started in March 2020 when the state´s measures to combat the coronavirus were in place.
The river Bjelava and its tributary Mala Bjelava are in the municipality of Foča, south of the Sarajevo capital. At the end of March 2020, the locals started to observe suspicious activities around the rivers - trees were being cut down, and there were machines digging - the company Srbinjeputevi Ltd. started to construct two hydropower plants for which they signed concession agreements with the Ministry of Spatial Planning, Civil Construction and Ecology of the Republic of Srpska.
The suspicion of locals that the concession agreement might be the only document that the company owns was soon confirmed. Upon nature defenders’ request, the Ministry of Spatial Planning, Civil Construction and Ecology of the Republic of Srpska, on 9 April 2020, confirmed that neither an EIA proceeding nor a construction proceeding had taken place. Representatives of the Coalition for Protection of the Rivers in Bosnia and Herzegovina filed a criminal complaint and contacted the Ecological Inspection, but meanwhile, the construction has been still ongoing.
“We request the Public Prosecutor’s Office of RS to initiate investigative proceedings against a suspect investor who is currently conducting illegal construction without any necessary permit. We believe that the commission of a crime should not go unpunished, especially if one uses this situation, caused by a coronavirus pandemic, to illegally build such facilities,” said Miloš Orlić, Coordinator of the Coalition for Protection of Rivers in BiH.
Nature defenders blocking illegal construction in times of pandemic
Despite the ban on public gathering, locals in Foča gathered to block the illegal construction in the morning of April 29, 2020. The blockade brought together more than two dozen locals who prevented workers from passing to machinery and continuing illegal work. They managed to block the entry of machines that day, but so far, the construction is still ongoing on the basis of permit to conduct a geological survey. Nature defenders are collecting further evidence to prove what is truly going on which is an illegal construction of two small hydropower plants.