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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Watchdog Trying to Skip Court

The head of the country's industrial safety watchdog repeated a call to extend its powers at a conference Wednesday.

Konstantin Pulikovsky, head of the Federal Service for Ecological, Technological and Atomic Inspection, said Tuesday that the service should be able to shut down operations it deems dangerous for an extended period without a court order.

The safety watchdog says this will help prevent safety violations. Business representatives and some politicians argue, however, that the measure would only further fuel corruption.

"Companies can't address every violation in just five days," the safety watchdog's spokesman, Yevgeny Anoshin, said at the conference. "They just continue operating and breaking safety rules."

Under current regulations, the service is allowed to halt operations at sites it considers dangerous for up to five days. In cases where violations have not been addressed, it is only able to extend the shutdown by court order.

Critics of the initiative warn that it will only increase the ability of bureaucrats and officials to extract bribes.

"It is not useful at all and will inevitably lead to corruption," said Oleg Fomichev, head of the economic policy and competition department of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs.

Even if the violations serious enough to warrant a shutdown were spelled out clearly, Fomichev said, this would only tempt inspectors into demanding money in exchange for registering less serious violations.

"If they try, they can find at least one violation in any company because it is simply impossible to get rid of all the violations without cooperating with the watchdog," Fomichev said.

The watchdog would be more effective, he said, if it focused on developing preventative instead of punitive measures.

Deputy head of the State Duma's Natural Resources Committee, Vladimir Kashin, said he supported the changes, but that guidelines would have to be strict and well defined.

"The [government] apparatus is rife with corruption, from top to bottom," Kashin said. "But the powers the watchdog has today are too limited.

Anoshin, meanwhile, dismissed the corruption allegations, saying judges can also be paid off to refuse to grant the agency court orders it needs to battle violations.

The service has been under increased scrutiny this year after two major mining accidents. Eleven miners were killed in a gas explosion in the Arctic town of Vorkuta in June, following a March explosion that killed 110 people working in a mine in the Siberian city of Novokuznetsk.