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UPDATED: November 23, 2012
Judicial Rules for Damaging Grassland Issued

In a bid to curb ecological deterioration across the country's grasslands, China's Supreme People's Court (SPC) has issued new judicial rules specifying penalties for criminal activities involving damage to the grasslands.

According to the judicial interpretation, which took effect Thursday, those who unlawfully occupy grasslands and use the areas for other purposes may face up to five years' imprisonment if the area involved is 20 mu (about 1.33 hectares) or more and a large area of such grassland is damaged.

However, the threshold shall be lowered to 10 mu for those given administrative punishment for illegally occupying grasslands in the past three years, according to the new judicial rules.

Hu Weixin, deputy director of the SPC research center, said at a press conference on Thursday that local law enforcement organs often have disputes over whether to impose criminal sanctions on those illegally occupying the grasslands, as China's Criminal Law does not specify standards of conviction and penalties in this regard.

"A lack of judicial rules has hampered efforts to punish violators and effectively protect grassland resources," Hu said.

China has about 400 million hectares of grassland, accounting for 41.7 percent of its total land area.

Since grassland areas are rich in coal, iron, petroleum, natural gas and rare earths, individuals and companies occupying grasslands to pursue profit in the form of industrial or commercial development has become an increasingly serious problem, said Ma Youxiang, an official with the Ministry of Agriculture, at the same press conference.

Some grassland areas have been used illegally for farming, according to Ma.

According to the new judicial interpretation, government officials who unlawfully approve the expropriation or occupation of grasslands could also face criminal penalties if the activities they consent to lead to damage on no less than 20 mu of grassland or direct economic losses of no less than 300,000 yuan ($47,695).

"The new interpretation will serve as a powerful weapon for cracking down on various criminal conducts concerning the damaging of grassland resources and the environment in accordance with the law," SPC spokesman Yu Housen said at Thursday's press conference.

(Xinhua News Agency November 22, 2012)

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