Beijing court disappoints fish farmers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 June, 2007, 12:00am

More than 80 aquaculture farmers in Zhejiang have sued the country's environmental watchdog and its Wenzhou branch for failing to monitor pollution which cost them 170 million yuan.

But, after the farmers' case against the State Environmental Protection Administration (Sepa) opened yesterday in Beijing's No1 Intermediate People's Court, the court immediately passed the case to Wenzhou judicial departments for conciliation as soon as possible.

The plaintiffs' lawyer, Yuan Yulai, said he and the farmers were disappointed, after numerous attempts to have the case heard in the regional courts.

It is the second time the farmers have taken Sepa to a Beijing court. They won their first lawsuit in April last year when a Beijing court upheld their right to sue Sepa after local courts rejected their application more than 40 times.

'It's a long way for us to sue Sepa and the environmental departments in Wenzhou,' one of the farmers' representatives said. 'And it hasn't finished yet. We have prepared for this for more than four years.

'The local courts and Sepa said we were not qualified to lay charges against government agencies because we are just normal citizens, not an organisation on the same level.'

He said he was one of about 100 farmers who had invested 170 million yuan in 367 hectares of aquaculture farms in the area. In March 2004 countless fish, shrimp, crabs and other marine stock died in contaminated coastal water, costing the farmers their entire investment.

The area is near a municipal economic development zone crowded with leather, electroplating, steel, printing and dyeing factories. The farmers claim that officials failed to provide them with Sepa's pollution reports when they applied for sea farm allocations in 2000.

'We are all fish farmers by birth, we had no idea about sea water contamination,' another farmer said. 'We could rely only on government information, but they didn't give us the correct information.'

After the disaster, 82 of the farmers filed a lawsuit in a local court accusing the environmental protection bureau of omissions. They won the case and received 13,500 yuan for each hectare in 'relief allowances'.

'What we want is compensation, not a relief allowance,' a farmer's representative said. 'We looked at all of the policies issued from Beijing and Sepa should definitely take major responsibility for this,' another farmer said.