What to do with the public water supply company, while the authorities are doing nothing

Legal advisor to Babaryka’s campaign addresses the problems with water supply in Minsk and describes how to protect one’s rights and seek redress for the harm done.

The situation with the quality of the drinking water in the capital brought into sharp focus a whole range of existing issues.

Contamination of water with an unknown substance

It is unclear at the moment how the contamination occurred, in what way it’s going to affect the water supply systems and what’s going to happen to people, who drank the contaminated water.

Inability to provide alternative water sources in a time of emergency

We must be thankful to those private citizens, who heeded the calls for help and delivered water or offered to pick it up from the streams. The journalists have contacted the campaign yesterday asking whether it is going to do anything to tackle the water issue. By that time a lot of campaign activists were already helping and it is only natural, since the campaign includes some of the most active members of the civil society.

Most importantly – inability to tell the truth

Cover-ups, attempts to calm down the media, total lack of courage to inform the public of the danger. It would seem that after airing of Chernobyl TV-series there should be no hesitation in warning the people at the slightest signs of danger, and yet, alas.

How to protect your rights

  1. Standard agreement with the public water supply company stipulates a pre-court arbitration mechanism. You should submit a complaint to the water company and state your demands. To write a complaint, and, subsequently, a legal claim one may seek assistance of the specialists of Consumer rights protection societies or legal councilors/attorneys.
  2. In case your request for indemnification was turned down you should seek legal redress in court. Lawsuits are exempted from the state levy. Legal claim can be submitted to the court of your local jurisdiction.
  3. In the case a harm to your health has occurred – document such facts, contact the law enforcement authorities to bring those responsible to justice.

What to base your demands on

To protect your rights in a civil court:

Every customer has an agreement with the public water supply company. This agreement regulates basic rights of the customer and responsibilities.

In accordance with clause 14 of the standard agreement the Provider shall indemnify damages, harm done to life, health and/or property of the Customer, which occurred as a result of not rendering housing and utility services or as a result of improper water supply and wastewater removal services, including cases, when it occurred due to the use of technologies, which are harmful to life, health and/or property of the Customer as well as to the environment, in course of rendering such services.

The Customer has the right to demand from the Provider repayment of moral damages, which occurred due to violation of the right of the housing and utility service consumer, notwithstanding indemnifiable property damage. The court determines the amount of moral damages to be paid.

In addition to the terms and conditions of the agreement, rules established by Belarusian Act “On protection of the rights of the consumers of housing and utility services” No. 405-3 of July 16th, 2008 apply. In accordance with article 6 of the Act, the Consumer has the right to:

  • satisfy his/hers needs in housing and utility services;
  • safety of the housing and utility services;
  • information on the provider and utility services he is rendering;

In accordance with article 22 of the Act, in the case of violation of the rights of the consumers of housing and utility services the provider shall pay the damages, compensation and a fine, stipulated by the Consumer Rights Protection Act and/or the agreement, if the provider cannot prove, that consumer rights violation did not occur at his fault.

Indemnification of damages/harm caused to the consumer at the provider’s fault shall be carried out in full, including additional costs.

Therefore, the consumer has the right to seek repayment of compensation and moral damages, including:

  • the cost of damaged belongings and equipment/machinery;
  • the additional costs, incurred in the attempts of restoring one’s rights (such as purchasing of water etc.);
  • costs of medical treatment and prescribed drugs;
  • moral damages (compensation of endured physical suffering (sickness, feeling unwell etc., which should be documented) as well as moral suffering – stress etc.)
To protect your rights in a criminal court

Should any instances of poisoning or serious property damage be confirmed, competent law enforcement agencies must be notified in order to launch a misconduct investigation into actions taken by the responsible public officials, including assurances of safety of the water supply and alleged cover-up of the real danger.

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