Procurators from provinces and cities in the Yangtze River Economic Belt gathered in Shanghai for a two-day forum during which they discussed ways to enhance further legal protection for the Yangtze River's ecology and ensure quality development of the region.
The discussion was based on 12 case studies that highlight the importance of cross-regional collaboration in solving public interest litigation cases concerning the ecosystem of the river.
We should further strengthen the cooperation among the procuratorates and different departments in the zone as protecting the ecological environment of the Yangtze River is a top priority, said Qiu Xueqiang, deputy chief procurator of the Supreme People's Procuratorate, at the forum which was held from Nov 20 to 21.
Stretching more than 6,000 kilometers, the Yangtze feeds millions of people as it flows through 11 provinces and municipalities. Hailed as a major economic engine, the Yangtze River Economic Belt accounts for over 40 percent of the national population and GDP, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
Participating procurators said that cooperation is necessary especially when it comes to public interest litigation, which has been on the rise in the past two years.
In the first 10 months of this year, prosecutors from the 11 provinces and municipalities along the river have arrested 6,068 people and dealt with 3,692 cases related to environmental crime, up by 50.46 percent and 51 percent respectively from last year. They have also brought to court nearly 10,000 cases involving 17,951 suspects. Meanwhile, the number of public interest litigation cases in the first nine months of this year reached a record high of 23,060.
One of the most discussed case studies at the forum was the one involving the disposal of illegally imported solid waste in Shanghai's port. The incident took place in October 2015 when a trading company in Zhejiang province's Ningbo imported more than 163 tons of banned iron slag by fabricating their goods declaration. The solid waste was eventually seized by Shanghai Customs.
In September 2018, the No. 3 Intermediate People's Court of Shanghai punished those involved in the case with prison sentences ranging from two to five years.
Following the verdict, the third branch of the Shanghai Municipal People's Procuratorate recognized that the solid waste, if not properly disposed of, would cause serious pollution to the environment. The procuratorate then kicked off further investigations in April.
In June, a civil public interest lawsuit was filed by the procuratorate with the No. 3 Intermediate People's Court of Shanghai, demanding for the defendants to jointly pay the costs associated with the treatment and disposal of the solid waste, which was over 1.1 million yuan.
In September, the court upheld the procuratorate's claims.
This solution prevents unnecessary government spending on banned, imported solid waste and warns enterprises of illegal behaviors, said Zhang Shouhui, an official from the third branch of the Shanghai Municipal People's Procuratorate.
The case is also regarded by the Supreme People's Procuratorate as a prime example of how a civil public interest litigation case concerning environment protection can be handled through a systematic collaboration with different sectors.
According to Ji Gang, another official from the third branch of the Shanghai Municipal People's Procuratorate, the procuratorate visited the Shanghai Customs and other related units to identify the suspects involved in the case.
Experts from the school of ecology and environmental sciences of East China Normal University were also invited to examine the potential risk of environmental pollution caused by the waste. The procuratorate then appointed a solid waste management center and a price certification center to evaluate and determine the proper disposal methods and costs involved.
Looking ahead, Zhang Bencai, chief procurator of the Shanghai People's Procuratorate, said at the forum that the city will introduce a third-party evaluation mechanism to provide professional advice and technical support for the procuratorate.
He also urged enhanced cross-regional coordination among law enforcement, criminal, administrative and public interest litigation departments.
Feng Jian, chief procurator of the People's Procuratorate in Sichuan province, suggested the establishment of unified environmental protection standards that can be applied to inter-provincial nature resources.
It will facilitate the working efficiency of procuratorial departments to solve common issues, said Feng.