Up to 700 officials in eight provinces and autonomous regions have been punished by Central Government inspectors in an unprecedentedly tough move to strengthen the nation's environmental supervision.
In what People's Daily described as an "accountability storm" for environmental laws and rules, the inspectors have exposed about 4,000 offenses including cases of dereliction of duty since they were commissioned in mid-July.
The first areas covered by the inspections are Heilongjiang, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Henan and Yunnan provinces, and the Inner Mongolia, Guangxi Zhuang and Ningxia Hui autonomous regions. The inspections still have two weeks to run.
Environmental experts have been quick to praise the Central Government's swift and tough action in dealing with local officials responsible for illegal pollution discharges.
One of the eight provincial regions where tough punishment was handed out was Guangxi, which punished 112 officials. Among them, 37 at city and county level were found to have been responsible for pollution caused by illegal quarrying at a nationally known scenic area on the Lijiang River in Guilin.
Zhang Benxing, a 73-year-old resident of Xiangshan district in Guilin, said, "The quarry near my village has been worked for more than 20 years, generating heavy dust all the time, and I think it caused my respiratory disease."
He added that many houses near the quarry have cracks due to continuous blasting at the quarry.
The Henan provincial government said in a statement, "The cases transferred by the central-level inspectors will go immediately to the governments involved. ... They will be required to investigate them straightaway."
Henan, which completed the investigation of 310 cases in two weeks, had punished 216 government officials by July 30 based on Party rules and administrative regulations.
Ma Yong, an environmental researcher at a Supreme People's Court law center, praised the large number of cases exposed and the tougher punishment for officials.
"It shows the Central Government has been striving to reduce pollution and has seen some success."
China has introduced laws and regulations stipulating that key leaders should play the major role in environmental protection, but the implementation of these has not been so good, Ma said.
Chang Jiwen, deputy director of the Institute for Resources and Environment Policies at the State Council Development Research Center, agreed that progress has been made with the number of cases exposed.
But he suggested that the central inspection teams should focus more on provincial and city-level governments and start investigating them.
This year, central inspectors plan to investigate 14 provincial regions, according to the National Environmental Protection Inspection Office.
Similar to the inspections ordered by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection to check for cases of official corruption, the Central Government has started to send the high-level inspection teams to look for environmental offenses.
(China Daily August 1, 2016)