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Lawmakers call for actions on environment issues

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-06-27 16:33

BEIJING - China's top legislators called for more active government actions and harsher punishment for wrongdoings when discussing a draft revision to a key environment law Thursday.

The draft amendment to the environmental protection law was tabled for the second reading at the ongoing bimonthly session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC).

While acknowledging great improvements in this bill from the previous version submitted for the first reading in August, lawmakers were not satisfied, especially with the definition of the government role in protecting the environment and punishment on polluters.

"The law should more clearly define what the government must do and what legal liabilities they would bear if they fail to act or breach their duty," said Zheng Gongcheng, member of the NPC Standing Committee and professor with the Renmin University of China, at the panel discussion of the bill.

In quite a number of cases, environmental problems occurred as local governments focused more on the economy than the environment so the law must enhance the government's liability, said Yin Zhongqing, another NPC Standing Committee member.

Yin suggested that the central government adopt a system to supervise and assess the performance of local governments concerning environmental protection.

Both the government departments and their officials should be held responsible. Officials who fail to exercise their duty and cause serious environmental hazards should not only receive administrative punishment but also legal punishment, he said.

The bill should also help the country to adopt effective and standard criteria to assess environmental protection, he said.

"Without such criteria, how can we tell whether a local government does a good job in environmental protection or not?" he said.

Wu Heng, also member of the NPC Standing Committee, suggested that the bill should require the government to inform the public about environmental risks and interact with them so that the public can actively engage in these issues.

Compared with the previous version, the bill adopts harsher punishment on polluters but lawmakers have proposed to raise the bar higher.

"We need a law with teeth that can bite," said lawmaker Wang Yifu, "The law should ensure polluters pay a high enough price."

According to the bill, companies and other organizations, which intentionally escape supervision and discharge pollutants, will be prosecuted if they violate the law. Those, whose activities are not serious enough for criminal prosecution, will be punished according to the law on penalties for administration of public security, for instance being put under administrative detention.

According to Zheng Gongcheng, such regulations are still too weak to stop polluters.

At the discussion, lawmakers also proposed that the bill should add more articles about environmental protection in the countryside, especially processing waste in villages and controlling pollution of farmland.

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