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6,500 Polluters Punished

China shut down 6,462 heavily polluting enterprises in a special law-enforcement operation last year, and 155 people were punished, a senior official of the country's environmental watchdog said in Beijing yesterday.
Meanwhile, 3,861 polluting enterprises nationwide were ordered to suspend operations to improve pollution treatment facilities, and another 6,755 were given serious warnings, Wang Jirong, vice minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration, said at a press conference.
Most of the factories are located along the Huaihe River, around Taihu Lake and in Henan, Hebei, Shandong, Shanxi, and Shaanxi provinces and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, according to SEPA.
The campaign started in April last year and lasted through November, involving more than 1 million law enforcement personnel who checked 600,000 firms.
It was a joint effort by six departments under the central government, including SEPA, the State Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Supervision and the Ministry of Justice.
"The operation has checked the rampant spread of pollution to some extent, but pollution in the country is still very serious," said Wang, attributing the situation mainly to local protectionism and difficulty of enforcing environment-related laws.
Wang said she was worried that many of the factories would resume production with the undercover support of some local governments who care more about economic growth than the environment.
She admitted that environmental laws still lack clear and specific stipulations to severely punish those responsible.
Wang cited the country's criminal law as an example. The law stipulates that the act of damaging environment is a crime, but there is still no judicial interpretation on the act. Local courts, therefore, often throw out such cases on the ground that they cannot judge what the act of damaging the environment entails.
So far only three people have been found guilty of damaging the environment. Most of the other violators were only punished with administrative measures, she said.

(Xinhua News Agency March 4, 2005)

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