New guideline to safeguard water resources
Miyun Reservoir, a major source of water for Beijing.[Photo/VCG]
The Supreme People's Procuratorate and the Ministry of Water Resources have issued a guideline for dealing with matters affecting water resources to ensure that the public interest and national water security are strictly upheld.
Procuratorates and water resources departments will establish a coordination mechanism for law enforcement and public interest litigation concerning water resources, focusing on acts that infringe on the national and public interest. A major focus will be on illegal acts that have serious impact on water resources, according to the guideline.
Zhang Xueqiao, deputy prosecutor-general of the SPP, said that establishing the coordination mechanism will promote the law-based modernization of water resources management.
"Water resources, the environment and water security are all of public interest. Although related departments are responsible for the governance of water resources, procuratorial public interest litigation does not replace administrative law enforcement but can be used to urge the involved departments to better perform their duties," Zhang said.
The coordination mainly covers five key fields: flood and drought disaster prevention, the management of water resources, rivers and lakes, water conservancy projects, and soil and water conservation.
People who carry out acts such as reclaiming land in reservoir areas, dumping materials in river courses and reservoirs to obstruct flood breaks, and building water intake projects without authorization, will be fined and may face public interest litigation. Other targeted acts include illegally mining sand or causing soil erosion.
If a case involves multiple administrative organs, or the local water resources department cannot coordinate with other departments to resolve the existing problems, the case should be transferred to the local procuratorate.
Wei Shanzhong, vice-minister of water resources, said that China has five laws related to water resources, 19 administrative regulations, and over 1,000 local regulations, and the law enforcement system concerning water resources affairs is constantly improving.
"This mechanism summarizes the cooperation among water resources departments and procuratorial organs in the past, which is conducive to stopping water-related illegal acts, investigating the liability of lawbreakers for damages, and better safeguarding national and public interests," Wei said.
Procuratorates nationwide have handled more than 17,000 water-related administrative public interest litigation cases since 2018, effectively promoting administrative organs to perform their duties. A number of individual offenders have been ordered to pay compensation for damages via public interest lawsuits, according to the SPP.
In one typical case released by the SPP, five people colluded in using excavators to illegally dig pits at the dam where the Qiantang River intersects with Cao'e River in Yuecheng district of Shaoxing, Zhejiang province, in July 2020.
Later, one of the offenders dumped 43 truckloads of waste in the area and damaged a section of the dam and the vegetation around it. This affected the dam's seepage control and stability and narrowed a river crossing section, obstructing flood discharge. In July, the district procuratorate filed a case and conducted on-site investigations with the local water resources bureau.
In April 2021, the district procuratorate filed a criminal lawsuit and civil public interest lawsuit against the five people. In May, the five people were sentenced to imprisonment from 18 months to 36 months for endangering public security by dangerous means, along with paying dam repair costs of 238,000 yuan ($35,600).