China pollution

China steps up prosecutions for pollution as officials promise ‘zero tolerance’ for environmental crimes

  • Law enforcement says more than 3,500 were prosecuted in the first 10 months of the year – a 40 per cent increase on the previous year
  • Government push to tackle problem has been hampered by local authorities turning a blind eye to polluting businesses
PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 November, 2018, 4:55pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 November, 2018, 9:45pm

China prosecuted more than 3,500 people for pollution-related crimes in the first 10 months of the year, up nearly 40 per cent on a year ago, law enforcement authorities said on Friday.

China has struggled to enforce its environmental laws as growth-obsessed local governments turn a blind eye to polluting local enterprises, and it has been trying to ensure violations are properly punished.

China’s procuratorate said at a Thursday briefing that it would show “zero tolerance” for environmental crimes, adding that it also prosecuted nearly 8,500 people for the wider offence of “damaging resources” in the first 10 months, up 44 per cent.

The number of criminal prosecutions is still small compared to the nearly 130,000 environmental violations reported in the first nine months of the year, leading to fines of 10.6 billion yuan (US$1.5 billion), according to environment ministry data.

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Beijing has encouraged courts and police departments to establish dedicated environmental divisions, while financial regulators and other government departments are under pressure to play a bigger role in punishing polluters.

In a speech earlier this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised to deploy the full weight of the state to reverse decades of environmental damage, forcing several ministries and regulators to draw up their own plans to fight pollution.

However, the central government still regards grass-roots enforcement as a weak link, and has launched a series of reviews into the way local officials rectify violations, focusing on what they describe as “fraudulent”, “superficial” or “perfunctory” efforts to meet pollution standards.

China is also making use of its feared corruption-busting body to crack down on local government violations, documents published by the corruption watchdog showed this week.

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Anti-corruption teams throughout China have been investigating officials for failing to rectify environmental problems, according to notices published on the website of the Central Commission of Discipline Inspection (CCDI), which normally handles corruption and other acts of misconduct.

At a meeting of the disciplinary body in Xian in northwest China, officials were reprimanded for oversight failures during the construction of a waste water pipeline, the CCDI said in a notice on Thursday.

In another case, the local party discipline committee of Sichuan punished local cadres for failing to respond to public complaints about an unregulated dog slaughterhouse in the city of Jianyang.