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Putin assigns prosecutors to conduct environmental probe of damage to Lake Baikal

The Russian president also tasked officials with finding sources of financing and compiling action plans for total environmental recovery of Lake Baikal

TANKHOI SETTLEMENT /Republic of Buryatia/, August 4. /TASS/. The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office should conduct probes and uncover activities that inflict environmental harm to Lake Baikal and the surrounding territories, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday.

He said that the unique freshwater lake is becoming more and more popular among tourists, which sometimes results in illegal dumps and other environmental violations related to tourism.

"Ensuring harsh control should be treated with particular attention and in this respect I ask the Prosecutor General’s Office to check the Baikal territory for facts of illegal and environmentally harmful activities," Putin said at a meeting on environmental issues of the Baikal region.

"I would like to stress: there is no need to check everything, one should know where to stop. But, however, illegal and environmentally harmful activities must be uncovered and relevant measures must be taken," he said.

Besides, the Russian president pointed to the need "to encourage businessmen to adopt responsible approaches towards environmental issues, particularly by developing ways for the co-financing of environment-related projects." Putin also voiced a suggestion that some part of fines and payments collected in national parks and preserves should be used for their development. According to Putin, consultations in this regard should be held with the Finance Ministry.

Putin also tasked officials with finding sources of financing and compiling action plans for total environmental recovery of Lake Baikal.

"The first task, which requires an immediate action, is to eliminate the environmental damage and hold a full-scale recultivation of polluted territories," the Russian president said. "I ask you to determine sources of financing, action plans and [designate] those who would carry out [those plans]."

Putin stressed that the protection of Lake Baikal was one of the state priorities. "Dealing with the effects of unsustainable and even irresponsible economic activities in this area is particularly important in order to prevent such activities in the future and make every possible effort to minimize negative consequences," the president said. "All this requires special attention and significant financial resources," Putin added.

He pointed out that areas adjacent to Lake Baikal had been extremely polluted, moreover, the accumulated waste from the already closed down Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill "continues to contaminate the lake and the rivers that flow into it."

Putin also demanded that the companies that were still active in the Lake Baikal area, be addressed, "as most of their sewage treatment facilities are well-worn," while "more than 60% of waste water comes from the housing and utilities sector." Besides, Putin pointed to the activities of agricultural companies that contaminated the lake with chemicals. "The dumping of waste waters should be reduced radically," Putin said adding that there was a need to upgrade utilities infrastructure. "This is the regional governments’ responsibility, though they may also count on the federal authorities’ assistance, particularly in light of the federal target program [on the protection of Lake Baikal]," the president said.

Putin handed down instructions to find the best possible solutions to Lake Baikal’s environmental issues that would not hinder the region’s social and economic development. The president pointed out that "the special status [of this area] stipulates stringent requirements for economic activities." "However, often times they take the form of unnecessary restrictions that directly affect the quality of life and the development of local settlements, they also hinder business development, particularly the creation of new jobs and efforts to fill local budgets," Putin added.

In this connection the president handed down instructions to find "the best possible solutions to the environmental problems, as well as to the social and economic development issues that the Baikal area has been facing." "At the same time, it is particularly important to prevent the increase of anthropogenic pressures on Lake Baikal’s ecosystem," Putin stressed.