China has amended its laws on environmental protection to prescribe tougher penalties on polluters as environmental pollution in the country reached unsustainable levels (See: China worried as smog virtually shuts down major city).
The sweeping amendments, the first in 25 years, follow two years of debate among activists and comes amid mounting public anger over pollution.
The much-anticipated amendments that follow a two-year debate among scholars, the government and non-governmental organisations, makes environmental protection the overriding priority of the government.
But the amendments passed by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's parliament failed to enthuse NGOs and environmental activists.
The amendments take effect on 1 January 2015 and polluters have time till then to abide by the requirements.
The amended rules, however, has provisions to help the government impose penalties on powerful industrial interests. The changes also give teeth to the laws needed to push forward Beijing's newly declared war on pollution and formalise a pledge made to abandon the growth-at-all-costs economic model that has spoiled much of China's water, air and soil.
Xin Chunying, deputy director of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress said the law would deliver "a blow ... to our country's harsh environmental realities".
The law will give the ministry of environmental protection the authority to take stronger punitive action, including shutting down and confiscating the assets of polluters. It also would ensure that information on environmental monitoring and impact assessments are made public.
The rules also sets an "ecological red line" that makes over-polluted regions out of bound for polluting industries.
The new rules, however, proposes to prevent most environmental non-governmental organisations from filing lawsuits against polluters.
According to the first draft, lawsuits could only be filed via the government-affiliated All-China Environmental Federation, though the final version allows other government-registered organisations that have been operating for at least five years and are registered with the civil affairs departments of governments in certain cities to launch legal action.
According to Yuan Jie, head of the office for administrative law of parliament's legislative affairs commission, the role of public interest litigation is firstly to supervise and monitor environmental violations.
In February China announced that it was putting together a fund for tackling air pollution in heavily affected cities, with Rmb10 billion ($1.6 billion) allocation to help industry comply with new environmental standards (China announces yuan 10 bn fund to tackle air pollution).