The construction of infrastructure for the production of electricity served as an excuse to confiscate numerous plots in the territory of Herzegovina, on which power lines were installed, tunnels for drainage or solar panels were drilled, without their owners knowing almost anything about it.
By: Andrijana Pisarević / Cover photo: Pixabay
As the owners of plots from the area of Trebinje and Bileća confirmed for our portal, the electricity distribution company Elektro-Hercegovina from Trebinje illegally built transmission lines on private land, occupied fields and pastures in Bileća for the purpose of installing solar panels of a private concessionaire, and halved plots by opening the Dabar tunnel which “sucked” the arable land, after keeping it submerged for more than half a year.
It could be said through a joke that a man from Trebinje has his own transmission line. However, the truth is that this building was not built on his land without his, but also without a use and construction permit, and that he never received compensation.
Although the facility was built decades ago, and its complaints and demands went unanswered, there was never any compensation or purchasing of land. The owner of this plot with a transmission line, whose name is known to the editorial office, and who does not want to make it public, says that at the end of last year he received a letter from the Mixed Holding of Elektroprivreda Republike Srpske stating that they could not remove the transmission line from his yard, but also that they do not intend to pay a fee for use because they have the right of easement, ie use or passage, as well as that they will not buy the land that they arbitrarily occupied.
“Elektro-Hercegovinahe justifies that they have acquired maintenance on this land over the years, even though it is in my private ownership and I have the right to be compensated. If the law says that there has been a de facto expropriation and no return to my property is possible, then as the owner, I have the right to claim compensation and this right does not become obsolete. After their answer, in which they made it clear to me that they would not compensate me in any way after they took away my land without any questions or permission, I decided to hire a lawyer and fight for my rights,” he says and adds that a fire broke out on that transmission line some time ago, which caused damage to property and for which he also did not receive compensation.
Branko Butulija, a member of the National Assembly of Republika Srpska from Bileća, is experiencing a similar, but still different, fate, where he was deprived of almost seven dunums of land due to the installation of solar panels, about which he found out through social networks.
“They are trying to take away my land for a solar power plant being built by a private EFT Group, without even informing me about it. Private plots in the village of Skrobotno near Bileća, including mine of about 6,700 square meters of arable land, were given for expropriation and declared to be of national interest. I had no experience before, so I didn’t know if this could be declared at all if it was private property, or what the procedure was. One day, they published an invitation on social networks for the owners to contact them for a meeting and agreement. They didn’t even bother to call us in person, and I wouldn’t have even found out if my children hadn’t seen it”, says Butulija.
He explains that he went to the meeting unaware that they would take away his land. He says that he was offered to sell at the price of 1.5 KM per square meter, and when he refused, they offered 3.5 KM. There was no public debate, he claims.
“I refused because I don’t want to sell that field, I cultivate it and sow it every year. It’s just not for sale, I’m not raising its price, I just don’t want to give it to anyone. However, I later received an invitation from the RUGIPP in Bileća to give consent for the expropriation. I said again that I don’t want to”, our interlocutor points out.
After that, he adds, a notification arrived that the expropriation had been done and that it had been translated in the land books to Republika Srpska.
“And they seem to have done it that way, they translate first to the state, and then the state translates to a private individual. This is very illogical to me. They took arable land for a private solar power plant where there is a large mass of wasteland that they could use without any problems. I believe that anyone’s private land must not be touched, and the Constitution probably guarantees that. This is pure fraud, they take away a square of arable land from us and give us compensation in the value of a litre of oil or fuel”, says Butulija.
He explains that they set up stakes on his plot, but also on his neighbours’ and relatives’ plots. Arming the ground, one of them came across and damaged a tractor.
“I’m not talking about this in order to raise the price of the land, it’s not for sale, it serves me and I cultivate it. I sow grain. I live in the countryside, I have cattle, I feed them that grain. I am not alone in that, and my cousins are, as are some neighbours. I don’t know what to do this year, I thought of ploughing, sowing some grain and clover, but now I don’t know what will happen. I only know that we will all sue them, because we will not give up our land”, Butulija points out.
He emphasizes that they once tried to enter his plot with machines from the mentioned company.
“Neighbors called me then to let me know. I told them not to enter at all, and they said that they were interested in the ‘geological structure of the land’. I asked him if they would let me enter their field with an excavator without question. I can’t understand that something like that can be done and declared someone else’s property, without a discussion, without informing the Municipality, and all that in order to benefit some private person”, said Butulija.
In the village of Kuti on the Dabar field near Bileća, there is no more land. It was washed away by water after the opening of the Dabar-Fatničko polje tunnel. As Radivoj Vojčić told us, the drainage tunnel pulled almost five dunums of healthy arable land.
“For us, this problem with soil erosion has lasted since the dam was built, but since the Dabar-Fatničko polje tunnel was dug, it has become even worse because the water now takes our fields. Erosion has certainly taken away half of our property in the Dabar field. There were years when it was possible to work in those fields, but that has not been the case for a long time. The water used to go to Lake Bileća, and when it fills up, it comes back to us and creates floods. We were left with nothing anywhere, everything was taken away from us”, says our interlocutor.
He adds that now there is no place to sow or raise cattle.
“Where there were meadows, a large amount of water enters the tunnel and works as a vacuum cleaner. It looks awful. The tunnel is right below my village Kuti. I think that over five dunums were taken away from my property completely. We addressed HET, we locals, sued, complained, we did not receive any answer. This is stealing bread from our mouths. There were 1,000 households in Kuti, around the entire Dabar field. Now it is less, people have nothing to do nor where, the water takes everything away “, says Vojčić.
He adds that many have given up on the works.
“They gave up because there is no use, and no one has come or asked anything. They did irreparable damage, mutilated the land and made it infertile. It never occurred to anyone to pay us any damage or the fact that they took away our land”, our interlocutor explained.
Realizing that they could not fight on their own and that their property was confiscated irretrievably, many citizens hired lawyers to represent them in the fight to protect their rights and compensation for illegal confiscation and damage to private property guaranteed by the BiH Constitution.
Some of them are represented by Banja Luka lawyer Din Tešić, who says that in all these cases it is obvious that the law was abused by public companies in order to avoid their obligations, especially the Mixed Holding of Elektroprivreda Republike Srpske.
“Nowadays, when all energy prices are constantly rising under the guise of public interest and the Law on Expropriation, the age-old property of individuals is being taken away for nothing and then given for use to companies owned by certain people and public companies themselves. The communist government’s misguided practice of not respecting private property and trying to reach land that is increasingly suitable for electricity production, for miserable money, continues with the already instructed expertise. While in other cases where the damage should be compensated for the illegal construction of transmission lines that transmit that energy and other infrastructure, contrary to court decisions, the obligation to compensate the damage to citizens is ignored,” says Tešić.
He says that the authorized persons in the Mixed Holding of Elektroprivreda RS are familiar with the busy legal understanding of the courts in BiH, that in cases of illegal construction of infrastructure on private land, they cannot call for maintenance, as it is a matter of actual expropriation.
“In the case of illegal construction, no matter when it happened, public companies must pay the real market price of land to the owners and compensate for the damage they have suffered in the last three years or will suffer in the future. The damage is mostly reflected in the impossibility of using the land where the illegally built facility is located, because nothing can be built under power lines and other network lines, because anti-erosion measures have not been taken, as well as due to loss of soil fertility caused by uncontrolled flooding”, he explained.
Tešić says that not only are individuals misled that they do not have any rights, but expertise is done without any real market bases of value, that of land, timber, and buildings built on the land.
“Some are compensated for 25 KM per square meter of sidewalk, while others have not received even five KM, and the land itself is underestimated by yield methods, not taking into account the obvious inflation and the enormous increase in the price of goods and services. Support for certain prices is not sought in the offers of private individuals or construction companies. According to the misconceptions they are trying to take away privately, the price of everything except the land of RS citizens has increased in the last 20 years. For example, Mtel regularly pays a monthly fee to landowners when they set up a facility on their land, such as a repeater, so in this case, Elektroprivreda RS should do so as well”, says Tešić.
The legal understanding mentioned by the lawyer was adopted at the Panel for Unification of Judicial Practice in the Civil Field, which was attended by representatives of the Court of BiH, the Supreme Court of FBiH, the Supreme Court of RS and the Court of Appeals of Brčko District BiH which was held in Sarajevo on January 30, 2014, in the premises of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of BiH.
This legal understanding of factual expropriation is harmonized in practice and says that the request for monetary compensation in these cases cannot become obsolete. There are cases of construction of facilities of public interest and performance of other works that result in complete or partial revocation of property rights, although there is no decision on revocation or determination of that public interest or a decision on expropriation.
“Thus, the competent authorities endanger the subjective rights of property owners. In this regard, in court practice, the question of which institutions of civil substantive law to eliminate violations of rights has become controversial. At the panel in the field of civil law from 2014, the position was adopted, unanimously, that the actual expropriation does not become obsolete, because the confiscation of property for the construction of facilities of public interest cannot be justified by public interest. The right to property is guaranteed by the Constitution of BiH and is one of the basic protected values, and it can be revoked only in accordance with the aim of fulfilling the public interest and through procedures prescribed by the Law on Expropriation, and the owner is entitled to full compensation for limited or revoked rights”, it is stated in the document that emerged from this meeting.
Unfortunately, until the finishing of this text, we were not able to get answers to these questions from MH EP RS, nor to establish contact with the management of EFT Group. We sent questions to both of them about these expropriations.
The RS Ministry of Energy and Mining told us that in the municipality of Bileća (Skrobotno village) the Government awarded concessions for the construction of SE Bileća to the company “Energy Financing Team SE Bileća”, and that the expropriation procedure in this place, as well as in Dabarsko polje is managed by the Republika Srpska Attorney’s Office and carries out activities prescribed by the Law on Expropriation.
The Republic Administration for Geodetic and Property Legal Affairs of Republika Srpska told us that the expropriation procedure for the needs of the first solar power plant in the municipality of Bileća is in progress and 17 cadastral parcels have been expropriated so far.
“Owners of real estate intended for expropriation participate in the expropriation procedure, as well as in oral hearings, and if they do not agree with the offered price, no compensation agreement is concluded, but the parties are referred to out-of-court proceedings before the competent basic court. The assessment of land, forest assortments and buildings located on them was performed by experts in agriculture, forestry and construction. A public hearing on this expropriation was held. About 147 cadastral parcels (new survey) have been expropriated so far for the construction of HPP Dabar buildings. The owners of the real estate participated in the expropriation procedure and a public hearing was held”, they said in RUGIPP.