In an effort to better protect the local environment, authorities in southwest China’s Yunnan Province are pioneering a new method: establishing special courts and making polluters fund environmental protection projects.
On Wednesday, a forest was unveiled in Dongchuan District, Yunnan’s provincial capital Kunming.
The forest was planted with proceeds from fines issued to environment polluters and is the second of its kind in the city.
Wang Xianghong, head of the environmental resource court under Kunming Intermediate People’s Court, said that the city started to explore such methods in 2010.
“The first such forest was unveiled in 2010, alongside a fund collected from fines of defendants in environment cases,” Wang said. “From then on, all fines voluntarily submitted by defendants in such cases went to the fund.”
The forest unveiled Wednesday was mainly grown using money taken from defendants who poured industrial waste into a river in Dongchuan District in 2013. The defendants paid 490,000 yuan (74,500 U.S. dollars) in order to get lighter sentences.
“More of these forests will be planted in the future,” said Wang. “For example, one forest is being planted in Xundian County and will open to the public next month.” Wang said the forests will serve as education bases for the public.
Meanwhile, authorities have been setting up “environmental resource courts” to handle environment cases.
In December 2008, the first environmental resource court was established in Kunming, and others followed in Yunnan cities such as Yuxi, Dali and Qujing. The courts not only punish those who violate the law, but also gets them to join environmental restoration work.
In February this year, an “environmental resource court” was set up at the Yunnan Provincial Higher People’s Court. So far, 15 such courts have been set up in Yunnan, dealing with a variety of pollution cases.
For instance, in June this year, a criminal surnamed Chen was sentenced for dumping pollutants in a local waterway, and ordered to do 24-hours work repairing the environment. In another case, people punished for fishing in Dian Lake during a fishing ban were ordered to put baby fish in the lake. A further case saw criminals ordered to plant trees as punishment for illegally occupying land.
“In the past, polluters were either fined or sentenced, but the damage they did to the environment remained,” said Zheng Tianzhu, a judge at the environmental resource court under Panlong District People’s Court in Kunming. “Now they also have to help repair the environment they damage.”
The defendants’ repair work and their attitudes towards the work will be considered as an important factor influencing judges’ sentencing decisions, Zheng said. “If, for example, the environment is permanently damaged, the defendants will be severely punished.”
Despite judicial progress in environmental protection, stumbling blocks remain. Zheng said the new courts were still in the initial stages of development, meaning that there was more work to be done.