VIEW LI YANG

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI -

most fer­tile land in the town, was very pol­luted with residue from heavy metals and pes­ti­cides.

Xia spent 3 mil­lion yuan ($500,000) to clean the soil in three months. Now Xia’s veg­eta­bles are very pop­u­lar in the mar­ket at a price that is 10 times higher than that of other farm­ers.

“I am also happy be­cause I will leave a patch of clean soil to lo­cal farm­ers when I leave here,” Xia said.

The Yangtze River Delta, Pearl River Delta and North­east China are eco­nomic en­gines and a main grain pro­duc­tion base for China. But the soil in the three ar­eas also is pol­luted by heavy metals from in­dus­try and min­ing, as well as pes­ti­cide and chemical fer­til­izer residues, com­pared with other in­land ar­eas.

Soil im­prove­ment is now a lu­cra­tive busi­ness in the Yangtze River Delta. But en­vi­ron­men­tal and agri­cul­ture watch­dogs do not have a sys­tem to mon­i­tor and re­pair the pol­luted soil.

And pol­luted soil in China is a huge prob­lem as re­vealed last month in the first na­tional sur­vey on soil pol­lu­tion.

From 2005 to 2013, the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion and Min­istry of Land and Re­sources sam­pled 6.3 mil­lion square kilo­me­ters of land, or 65.63 per­cent of China’s land area.

The re­sults: an aver­age of 16.1 per­cent of China’s soil is pol­luted; the size of the pol­luted arable land is nearly twice that of wood­lands and grass­lands.

Sta­tis­tics show more than 12 mil­lion tons of grain are pol­luted by heavy metals in China each year, enough to feed nearly 40 mil­lion people a year.

Wang Shiyuan, vice-min­is­ter of the Min­istry of Land Re­sources, said re­cently that the cen­tral govern­ment will spend hun­dreds of bil­lions yuan each year from now on to re­pair the con­tam­i­nated soil and the over ex­ploita­tion of ground­wa­ter.

Yet, the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion es­ti­mates are that it will take dozens of tril­lions yuan to solve China’s soil pol­lu­tion is­sue.

Chi­nese law­mak­ers need ur­gently to make the Soil Pol­lu­tion Preven­tion and Con­trol Law to pro­vide a le­gal frame­work to ad­dress the chal­lenge.

How­ever, the law must grant the in­di­vid­ual cit­i­zens and so­cial or­ga­ni­za­tions the power to launch col­lec­tive suits against the pol­luters as well as the ir­re­spon­si­ble govern­ment de­part­ments that fail in their du­ties as watch­dogs.

The chal­lenge is that the new En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Law passed late last month still re­spects the govern­ment’s dom­i­nant power and sta­tus in de­cid­ing whether the pol­luters should be pun­ished, and whether so­cial or­ga­ni­za­tions are qual­i­fied to charge the sus­pected pol­luters.

Ex­pe­ri­ence in de­vel­oped coun­tries proves that im­prov­ing their en­vi­ron­ment goes along with not only the ris­ing of people’s en­vi­ron­men­tal con­scious­ness, but also their power to de­fend their le­gal rights.

Af­ter grant­ing cer­tain so­cial or­ga­ni­za­tions the rights to sue pol­luters, the law­mak­ers need to make it pos­si­ble and eas­ier for in­di­vid­ual cit­i­zens to launch col­lec­tive suits to de­fend the pub­lic in­ter­ests on pol­lu­tion is­sues. Other­wise, the pol­lut­ing en­ter­prises can eas­ily muf­fle lo­cal gov­ern­ments by pay­ing huge amount of taxes.

And the cen­tral govern­ment needs a spe­cial ac­tion plan to clean the soil and make soil pro­tec­tion a na­tional strat­egy, rather than im­promptu patch work.

In the most se­ri­ously pol­luted area, the govern­ment must ini­ti­ate pi­lot soilimprove­ment projects as soon as pos­si­ble to form a ma­ture and prac­ti­cal soil ame­lio­ra­tion model that can be trans­planted na­tion­wide.

Last but not least, the govern­ment needs to strengthen its su­per­vi­sion of any pol­lut­ing be­hav­iors. There should be a life-long ac­count­abil­ity sys­tem of soil pol­luters. And the agri­cul­ture and food in­spec­tion au­thor­i­ties are the goal­keep­ers to pre­vent the pol­luted grains and prob­lem­atic foods from en­ter­ing the mar­ket.

XIN­HUA

Wheat grows in a patch of land re­cov­ered from con­tam­i­na­tion of poly­chlo­ri­nated biphenyl in Taizhou, Zhe­jiang prov­ince in this file photo taken in May 2013.

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