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People's Daily Online>>China Society

Court backs environment group

By Zhao Yinan (China Daily)

08:50, January 20, 2012

BEIJING - A court ruled a local government must disclose information about a company accused of polluting, a verdict seen as a victory toward improving people's right to know.

A special court in Southwest China's Guizhou province, one of the few pilot courts set up to hear environmental cases, on Jan 10 supported a semi-official environmental group, the All-China Environment Federation, in asking information from the local environmental protection bureau about a dairy producer accused of dumping polluted water.

The ruling is the country's first judgment in favor of a social group - a registered nonprofit organization - asking a government agency to disclose information on the environment.

In December, the All-China Environment Federation, which is affiliated with the Ministry of Environmental Protection, accused the environmental protection bureau in Xiuwen county, Guizhou province, of not disclosing information regarding a local water pollution case.

Song Jiebin, a program officer of the federation, said the information the group sought was in accordance with the regulation on government disclosure of information and should have been provided.

The federation had sued a local dairy producer and asked the bureau to provide information, such as how the company discharged its waste. But the bureau did not comply.

"If we don't even know the information about the pollution, how could we win the lawsuit?" asked Ma Yong, a lawyer representing the federation.

The current regulation bars grassroots groups and individuals from filing an environmental case on behalf of the public.

Court records show that most such cases are filed by government administrations, prosecutors and social groups with official backgrounds, according to the Supreme People's Court.

Individuals and non-governmental organizations have rarely been able to file litigation in the public interest, despite many attempts.

Draft regulations proposed in December call for allowing social groups to be able to file cases related to environmental protection and food safety on behalf of the public.

Luo Guangqian, presiding judge of the court in Guizhou denied that the favorable ruling was related to the semi-official background of All-China Environment Federation.

"We welcome social groups to join in environmental protection efforts whether they are official or not," he said.

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