Right to Environmental Information Should Be Written into Constitution

In the wake of a string of environmental incidents stirring public alarms, a Chinese lawmaker has proposed to write "the citizens' right to environmental information" into China's Constitution, and to raise the legal status of the country's existing environmental protection law.

"The right to a clean and safe environment should be regarded as a basic human right. To effectively guarantee this right, the citizens' right to learn environmental information and to participate in environmental protection should be included in the Constitution," suggested Jin Zhiguo, a deputy to the 10th National People's Congress (NPC), the Chinese legislature in its annual full session in Beijing.

The existing law on environmental protection has failed to make any stipulations on the rights and interests of victims of pollution or other environmental incidents, neither has it made comprehensive stipulations on the legal liabilities of the state and the governments in environmental protection, said Jin.

As a result, power abuse of governments and officials often occurs on environmental issues, leading to the violation of the citizens' environmental rights, the lawmaker added.

"The amendment to the Constitution will lay a solid legal foundation for the establishment of a complete and effective system to guarantee the environmental rights of the people," said Jin.

The lawmaker also suggested the legal status of the existing law on environmental protection be elevated to make it "a basic law of the country."

The existing law on environmental protection, which was adopted by the Standing Committee of the NPC, the regular lawmaking body of the national legislature which meets once every two months to deliberate and pass general laws and regulations, is too weak to meet the growing environmental challenges faced by the country, Jin noted.

The law should be re-submitted to the annual full session of the NPC, which has the power to adopt the country's basic laws such as the Constitution and the Criminal Law, for a second adoption and promulgation, the lawmaker proposed.

China's rapid economic growth over the past decades, fueled by some local governments' blind pursuit of GDP (gross domestic product), has led to worsening pollution and other environmental problems, prompting the central leadership to urge a "scientific concept of development" which features more efficiency use of resources and better protection of the environment.

The citizens' right to environmental information aroused public concern late last year following a major river pollution incident in Northeast China. Around 100 tons of pollutants containing hazardous benzene spilled into the Songhua River after a chemical plant explosion on Nov. 13 in Northeast China's Jilin Province, forcing Harbin, a city of more than 3 million people on the lower reaches, to suspend water supply for a few days.

However, the residents in Harbin were kept in the dark about the river pollution, the worst of China since 1949, until the water cut-off was announced nearly 10 days after the spill. Xie Zhenhua, director of China's State Environmental Protection Administration, resigned in early December for his administration's slow response to and delayed information release about the incident.

(Xinhua News Agency March 13, 2006)

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