Tougher punishments for polluters proposed

Updated: 2013-06-27 02:11

By ZHAO YINAN (China Daily)

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Despite its efforts to enhance the penalty for illegal dumping, Wednesday's draft has sparked wide speculation that it may hinder the public's participation in protecting their interests by filing a lawsuit.

The draft proposes authorizing the All-China Environment Federation and its provincial branches to initiate class-action lawsuits against polluters on behalf of the public.

If the draft is passed, the organization, affiliated with the government, will become the only entity in China allowed to file a class-action lawsuit regarding environmental pollution.

Li Gang, a lawyer specializing in environmental litigation, said the draft has effectively deprived other social groups of their litigation rights.

Li said the number of environment-related cases has been increasing at more than 5 percent annually, and it is unreasonable to limit the litigants to only one organization.

The Civil Procedure Law, China's essential procedure code to deal with civil disputes, stipulates that government agencies and organizations approved by law are allowed to file class-action lawsuits, in which a group of people collectively bring litigation concerning environmental pollution and unsafe food incidents to court to defend the public interest.

Friends of Nature, an environmental NGO, is filing a class-action lawsuit in Yunnan province, where contaminating chromium was dumped, polluting water resources.

"The draft amendment (on class-action lawsuits against polluters) will significantly dampen public interest in the environment," said Yang Cheng, a project officer from Friends of Nature who is in charge of the Yunnan lawsuit.

The NGO submitted an open letter to the National People's Congress Standing Committee, the top legislature, on Wednesday, saying that the draft amendment will be difficult to enforce.

"We strongly suggest the NPC Standing Committee revise the stipulation," it said.