Green organizations won a lawsuit against four men for environmental damage in Nanping, Fujian province, on Oct 29 in the first-ever public-interest litigation since China’s revised Environmental Protection Law took effect on Jan 1.
The court’s support in this lawsuit will act as an example in future cases concerning environmental protection and encourage more green nongovernmental organizations to participate, environmental experts said.
The Nanping Intermediate People’s Court heard the case of four defendants charged with damaging 1.89 hectares of forestry land. The court ordered them to pay 1.27 million yuan ($200,000) toward ecological restoration work within 10 days.
The men were also ordered to remove dumped stones and other waste within five months to allow the forested land to regrow or they will face another fine of 1.1 million yuan, the court said.
Since July 2008, the men carried out unauthorized stone quarrying at a mountain in Nanping, dumping waste soil and stones and severely damaging the ecology.
They were asked to stop in 2010, but they continued and expanded their operation across a larger area, according to the Beijing-based NGO Friends of Nature, one of the green organizations that filed the Fujian lawsuit.
The court accepted a public-interest lawsuit against the four men on Jan 1, the day the revised Environmental Protection Law took effect. The law eased the criteria required by green organizations to file such lawsuits.
Liu Xiang, an environmental law professor at China University of Political Science and Law, said this first case has played a leading and exemplary role in getting compensation from defendants for ecological damage and supporting the experts’ opinions during the investigation.
“In such public-interest litigation on environmental damage, it’s rare to see the court adopt the comments and suggestions from experts in China,” Liu said, adding that if courts listen to expert opinions, they will be able to reach accurate judgments more easily.
Ge Feng, the head of the law and policy department of Friends of Nature, said: “The court sentenced the four people to pay the necessary fees in the lawsuit for the plaintiff, which could reduce the financial burden of green NGOs. I hope other courts will follow suit to help other organizations in other public-interest lawsuits.”
At present, more green organizations have filed lawsuits against polluters, but some courts have rejected these cases.
In August, an environmental NGO filed a lawsuit against eight chemical plants accused of polluting the Tengger Desert, demanding that they stop polluting and repair the damage. But the city court of Zhongwei in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region rejected the case because the organization did not meet the legal requirements for such an action.
Ma Yong, a researcher at a law center under the Supreme People’s Court, said it should be made easier to allow more green NGOs to file lawsuits.