On 13 November 2013, at the plenary session of the Georgian Parliament, the Adigeni Region Majoritarian MP, Zurab Chilingarashvili spoke about the problems of his region. According to his statement, the Forestry Agency demarcates wood cutting areas with the population paying relevant fees at the bank and thereby acquiring permission to cut firewood in the designated cutting area. According to Chilingarashvili, the problem lies within the lack of restrictions on the quantity of trees to be felled in the designated areas. There are people in Adigeni buying the whole cutting area and afterwards selling it at much higher prices to the population. As a result, about 60-70% of the population is left without firewood and, therefore, is not prepared for winter.

FactCheck decided to check the truthfulness of the abovementioned statement. According to the Georgian Dictionary of Legal Terms,

a cutting area is defined as “a district of the Georgian forest fund with a defined amount of wood to be felled as well as marked trees to be felled. ”The Agency of Protected Areas is responsible for the designating and registering cutting areas. The Agency, as a legal entity of public law (LEPL), is a part of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Protection of Georgia.

Aiming to get a better understanding of the existing problems in the Adigeni Region, Factcheck

contacted Zurab Chilingarashvili. The MP responded to our correspondent: “About 50-60% of the Adigeni population is left without firewood. They are not provided with any cards for getting firewood. Several groups participate in the tenders and buy 200-300 cubic meters of firewood and then afterwards sell them to the population at much higher prices. I am not saying that these are some kinds of business groups. In fact, there is nothing illegal in this, simply, the legislation is still defective. They have better access to the state tenders and can win them in 15 minutes. What can a villager do when he does not know what a tender, a computer, bids or the internet are?  Maybe a solution is to impose a restriction of five-to-seven cubic meters per household. There are no regulations. The law does not protect the villagers. The legislation does not treat everyone equally. Under such circumstances, people have nothing to do other than to steal firewood. Of course, they get fines afterwards. In other words, it is an utter chaos.”

According to Chilingarashvili, this problem is particularly acute for the population connected with the mountain areas: “The majority of the Adigeni population is connected with the mountains. Many of them leave for the mountains as shepherds and take their families with them in spring and stay there until autumn. They need firewood not only for heating but for cooking their meals as well. They cannot buy it under the existing conditions and so have to cut it illegally. They are in the mountains when the tenders are announced (March-November).”

FactCheck

contacted the Agency of Protected Areas. According to their information, the Georgian Government established the procedures of tree felling and the purchase of cutting areas according to Resolution No 302 dated 29 November 2013 on Approving the Rules for Using Forests. Prior to this resolution, each household had the right to buy an unlimited quantity of the cutting area and cut firewood throughout a calendar year.

The new resolution imposes limits on the cutting of firewood in the cutting area. In particular, a household can only buy seven cubic meters of cutting area during a calendar year; the procedure for the purchase, however, remains unchanged. People pay the fee at the bank, the forester registers and borders the purchased cutting area. After this procedure, the owner is allowed to cut firewood within the demarcated area.

We also contacted Senior Forester of the Samtskhe-Javakheti Forestry Department, Levan Tediashvili. According to Tediashvili, there are 3,520 ha of territory distinguished in the Adigeni Municipality covering 101 cutting areas. The new regulation (Resolution No 302) went into force on 3 December. Regarding the problem identified by MP Chilingarashvili, Tediashvili declared that the population could and still can purchase cutting areas without any tenders or auctions. However, there could be some problems in the villages with a small number of forests as due to the absence of regulations limiting the number of trees to be felled, some families were not able to obtain access to firewood. Specifically, this was a problem for the villages of Ude and Arali. With the consent of the population, village councils imposed limitations on tree felling until the adoption of the new resolution. According to these limitations, each household could fell only three cubic meters of firewood. The aforementioned new resolution of the Government aims to prevent precisely this sort of problems.

Conclusion

Parliamentary Minority member, Zurab Chilingarashvili, spoke about the problems of the Adigeni population on 13 November. At that time, there were in fact no regulations in place limiting tree felling for the purpose of firewood. Due to the lack of such limitations, certain groups were purchasing the majority of the cutting areas and then selling them to the population at much higher prices. This truly constituted a problem for the population as not every household had the means to purchase the cutting area and cut wood. Therefore, this part of Chilingarashvili’s statement is consistent with truth. It should also be noted that the government adopted a resolution imposing the limitation on tree felling (seven cubic meters) several days after Chilingarashvili raised this issue. It can be assumed that this decision put the population in somewhat more equal conditions.

As already mentioned, Chilingarashvili was right about the lack of limitations on tree felling for the purpose of firewood (subsequently the problem was solved); on the other hand, his comment made to FactCheck

with regard to tenders proved to be inaccurate. According to the Resolutions of the Georgian Government No 242 dated 20 August 2010 and No 302 dated 29 November 2013, neither tenders nor auctions are being announced in order to obtain the right of tree felling in the cutting areas. The population pays a respective amount of money at the bank and a forester registers and borders the purchased area. After these procedures, the owner can fell the trees for firewood in the bordered cutting area.

Based upon the facts revealed by our research, it is safe to say that the problem raised by Chilingarashvili has been solved on the legislative level, but this took place only after Chilingarashvili made the abovementioned statement, therefore, we conclude that Zurab Chilingarashvili’s statement about the problems of tree felling for the purpose of firewood in the Adigeni Region, is MOSTLY TRUE.

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