Opinion / Editorials

Water case should be heard

(China Daily) Updated: 2014-04-18 07:13

Five Lanzhou citizens are trying to sue the Veolia Water Corporation for failing to guarantee water quality and providing unhealthy tap water to residents in Lanzhou due to the benzene contamination. However, on Monday, Lanzhou Intermediate People's Court said it will not file the case, because the five citizens are not "authoritative units and related organizations", which means they are not qualified to file such litigation according to Article 55 of the Civil Procedure Law.

An investigation into the incident to determine accountability is necessary, but the best way for citizens to protect themselves and exercise their rights is within the legal framework. However, this effort to seek the support of the law has been stopped by the court, said a commentary of Youth Times.

That five Lanzhou citizens are suing the water company can be seen as public interest litigation because they represent all Lanzhou citizens whose health has been endangered. But it is also a tort action because the contamination was a civil wrong that harmed others, even if it was accidental. The court should not just reject the public interest case and ignore the interests of the five citizens.

The lately revised Civil Procedure Law stipulates public interest legislation to safeguard the public's interests. It is ironic, therefore, that public interest legislation has become the Lanzhou Intermediate People's Court's excuse for prevarication. It also shows the predicament domestic public interest legislation faces.

If the five Lanzhou citizens have to launch their public interest suit through an organization, the obstacle they face is which organization qualifies for this role. Although the new Civil Procedure Law stipulates public interest legislation, it is still unclear which authorities and organizations are qualified to sue on the public's behalf. Nor is there a related judicial interpretation to clarify matters. It is not uncommon to see courts seeking excuses to say that organizations are not qualified.

Meanwhile, it's also likely that the relevant organizations will have innumerable links with the government. To expect them to sue the drinking water provider could mean they would be indirectly blaming the government.

Maybe Lanzhou citizens should bypass the public interest legislation and file a tort action. We wonder what excuse the Lanzhou court would find to ignore the case then.

(China Daily 04/18/2014 page8)

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