The Qihua Group Co. Ltd, based in Heilongjiang province, is a chemical production company affiliated with ChemChina (China’s largest chemical products company). It was established in January 1998 and produces chemicals such as alkali products, PVC, resin, hydrochloric acid, gasoline and diesel. The company is located near Yushutun Village, which is part of the Angangxi district of Qiqiha’er City in Heilongjiang province. In April 2001, the elected Village Committee of Yushutun Village (榆树屯村村委会) agreed to lease 428 mu of village land to the Qihua Group as a dumping ground for solid lime waste from their chemical production process. Due to the company’s failure to adopt pollution control measures the 428 mu dumping ground along with an adjacent 300 mu of land contaminated by sewage water became so polluted that the land was stripped of all arable properties, making agricultural cultivation completely impossible.
Villagers initially raised this issue with the responsible local government institutions, but failed to gain a response. They then took the issue to the Disciplinary Inspection Committee of the Heilongjiang provincial government. This prompted the City Environmental Bureau to inspect the soil and water quality of Yushutun village, but in their final verdict the Environmental Bureau stated that while the groundwater had been polluted by the dumping activities, the soil had not been affected by pollution. The villagers found this verdict wholly unconvincing, so on the 21st and 27th of September 2006, the Yushutun Village Committee filed a lawsuit against Qihua Group (the defendant) in the lower (district) court and the intermediate (city) courts, requesting confirmation that in the contract signed by Qihua Group in 2001, the Group agreed to compensate villagers for damages arising from pollution inthe 428 mu of land and adjacent 300 mu sewage resevoir. However, both courts refused to file the case. Due to the inadequate responses from these lower level institutions and for lack of a better option, on October 9th 2006, the Village Committee reported the case to the National Letters and Visits (Petitioning) Office, and on recommendation from this office, this case was finally sent to the Qiqiha’er Municipal Bureau of Land and Resources. On January 16th 2007, the Qiqiha’er Letters and Visits Office produced a dispute resolution report asserting that there was emphatically no evidence of the villager’s so-called claims of pollution damage, and they would therefore cease to consider the villager’s claims. The Qihua Group was therefore able to continue chemical production and its polluting activities continued unabated.
At the end of July in 2006, Mr Wang Enlin of Yushutun Village called the Centre for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV) to report the severe water and land pollution caused by Qihua Group. At the time, CLAPV volunteers suggested that the villagers should raise the issue with the Qiqiha’er Environmental Bureau. Specifically, they should demand the environmental bureau to comply with its legal obligations to monitor pollution. Specifically, the Environmental Bureau should instruct the Qihua group to install pollution prevention facilities and stop their illegal polluting activities.
In early January 2007, Wang Enlin contacted the Centre again to report that the Environmental Bureau had investigated the village land and groundwater, and concluded that the Qihua Group was not conducting illegal polluting activities, nor was there any evidence of pollution. Wang Enlin also made it known that the land leased to the Qihua Group as a dumping ground—which was clearly the main cause of pollution in the area—had actually been leased illegally by the Yushutun Village Committee. Accusations of illegal land leasing made the case a lot more complicated, because it was arguably this initial act that led to pollution damage in over 3000 mu of agricultural land and ground water in Yushutun village. CLAPV (hereafter known as ‘the Centre’) therefore decided to send a volunteer to Qiqiha’er city in March 2007 to conduct an on site investigation of this case. This investigation was carried out over a 6 day period and clarified the following points: 1) Qihua Group dumping ground was polluting, and this pollution had affected the groundwater and sections of previously arable land in Yushutun Village; 2) The arable land of Wang Enlin and his fellow villagers has been polluted, and they have not been compensated for the loss in agricultural production resulting from the pollution; 3) The Yushutun Village Committee, District and County Government had illegally leased this land to Qihua Group as a dumping ground for chemical waste; 4) Wang Enlin and his villagers made clear that would like to continue pursuing their legal rights over this case.
Following this investigation, the Centre’s volunteers contacted a pollution assessment organization (污染鉴定机构) and on June 23rd, the Chinese Society for Environmental Sciences agreed to undertake the evaluation work for this case. However, because the requested evaluation fee was to high, the Centre decided to first pursue administrative procedures to resolve this case. Due to the Qiqiha’er Bureau of Land and Resources initial unfavourable response to the case, the Centre’s volunteers encouraged the villagers to draft two separate petitions to two different bureaus. The first petition, to be submitted to the Qiqiha’er Environmental Bureau, demanded that the Environmental Bureau should comply with its mandated inspection and management responsibilities. The other petition, to be submitted to the Qiqiha’er Agricultural Bureau, requested that the Bureau initiate an investigation and evaluation of the damages to agricultural production resulting from pollution in Yushutun village. The Centre then continued to assist the villagers in searching for a pollution assessment organisation to prove the impact of pollution. Because the case involved chemical pollution of organic matter, the pollution assessment fee was high, so the Centre had to turn down the two organisations they had initially contacted to conduct this assessment.
In early June 2007, under the assistance of representing lawyer Wang Xuejun, the litigant Wangen Lin filed two separate administrative lawsuits against the local Environmental Bureau and Agricultural Bureau, requiring both bureaus to carry out their mandated obligations to actively monitor soil pollution and assess pollution damages, but the local courts did not respond. During this period, Wang Enlin also actively took steps to contact and engage pollution inspection agencies and other relevant organizations. However, other than the inspection agency, which agreed to assist Wang Enlin in processing his plan for the action, all other organisations chose to ignore Wang Enlin’s requests.
Meanwhile, Wang Enlin continued to make his case known to the Qiqiha’er Angangxi district government, but the government and the courts did not respond, and the courts continued to withhold their ruling on whether or not the case would be filed. Moreover, because the case was filed in both the lower and intermediate courts, it required approval from the superior court, which added to procedural complications. To address this impasse, the Centre authorized a consultation between the plaintiff and the Centre’s lawyers Liu Xiang and Gao Shangtao. Together they decided that they would continue to approach the Qiqiha’er City government and help local villagers to approach the responsible administrative and judicial bureaus in an attempt to gain attention from influential officials. But this approach soon stalled, so Wang Enling and the laywers decided to pursue and alternative approach, namely, filing an administrative and civil lawsuit to seek justice for the victims of pollution of Yushutun Village.
In early October 2007, the Centre authorised Teacher Xu Kezhu, Xi Jiangrong (a reporter from the Legal Daily), Wang Xuejun (a volunteer lawyer) and Pan Yu (a volunteer) to go to Qiqiha’er city to conduct on site investigations and to visit the local courts, the Environmental Bureau, the Agricultural Bureau, the Municipal Bureau of Land and Resources and the city’s Law Enforcement organisations. Through the visits, the representatives obtained the following responses: The head of the administrative court noted that due to the upcoming Olympic Games and in light of the extraordinary circumstances of this case, it would be necessary to obtain instructions from the higher courts. He then made a verbal promise to contact the higher level courts, and urged the litigant, Wang Enlin, to wait patiently. The Environmental Bureau took a more unyielding stance, and even before they had received their supervisor’s response on the case, they declined to accept any interviews or surveys.
On visiting the Agricultural Bureau, the Director of the Agricultural Bureau stated that the details of the litigant’s case were inconsistent with reality, so Wang Enlin must have some underlying alternative motive. Moreover, he stated that Wang Enlin had never officially requested that the Agricultural Bureau to comply with its obligations on this case, and he therefore could not provide any relevant suggestions. Finally, the Director of the Municipal Bureau of Land and Resources acknowledged the polluted sewage water and groundwater issue, which had previously been recorded by his department. However, he directed the representatives to raise this issue with the city’s Law Enforcement and Stability Maintenance Team, as they were better positioned to implement actions on this case. Unfortunately, the leaders of the city’s Law Enforcement and Stability Maintenance team had only just come to office. They therefore had no knowledge issues under the previous leaders, and demonstrated extreme indifference to this case.
After failing to obtain a response from these visits to the responsible government departments, Teacher Xu and the four representatives went to sample the soil in the areas subjected to Qihua Group’s pollution, so as to prepare the evidence and data required for filling a civil lawsuit. They also contacted the Party Secretary and Village Leader of Wang Enlin’s village to try and obtain more information on the case, but both leaders said they were unable to meet.
Specimens collected from this preliminary investigation were sent to the Hebei Cangzhou Science and Technology Evaluation Centre for the Administration of Justice (河北沧州司法科技鉴定中心) and results showed that the soil specimens had very high pollution factors (污染因子). This provided strong evidentiary support for the case. Around the same time, the journalist from the Legal Daily published an account of his interviews and findings the trip, which prompted other media outlets to contact the Centre to learn more about the case.
The case had so far failed to make any progress as an administrative lawsuit, so the teachers and lawyers from CLAPV that were supervising the case decided to pursue a civil lawsuit, with volunteer lawyer Gao Shangtao acting as the legal representative for the case. Lawyer Gao assisted Wang Enlin in drafting a bill of indictment, which was then submitted to the Qiqiha’er Angangxi district court, but again the court did not respond.
On September 12th and 18th 2009, the Centre sent Lawyer Gaoshengtan to Qiqiha’er to initiate an investigation. On August 16th, prior to these investigations, the litigant Wang Enlin was detained by a local court for failing to execute a judgment on an earlier case (which was linked to the existing Qihua Group case, but not related to the Centre). On August 28th, Wang Enlin was detained as a criminal by the Qiqiha’er Angangxi district security bureau on the criminal charge of destroying territory classified as ‘grasslands’. After inquiring and verifying details with the villagers, the Centre established that the lands cultivated by Wang Enlin had been his property since 1976, and his (as well as most of Yushutun village land) had been cultivated for agricultural purposes for decades. In 1994, the local Bureau of Land and Resources, for unknown reasons, had decided to register this land as ‘grassland’. In the meantime, Wang Enlin had continued cultivating approximately 27 mu of agricultural land even though, according to his land certificate, he was only entitled to 17 my of land. It was on this basis that he was accused of ‘destroying grassland territory’. However, throughout Yushutun village there was a widespread disparity between formally allocated land and actual cultivated land, largely due to confusions arising from government efforts to label this land as ‘grassland’. Over 50 villagers were known to cultivate more land than allocated to them by the official land certificates. For these reasons, the crime Wang Enlin was accused of was untenable. First, the ‘grassland’ he was accused of destroying had always been cultivated land and second, the disparities between official land rights and actual land cultivation was a common practice in the village and originally caused by the Village Committees incompetence in reporting the changes to land administration.
On May 25-28th, 2010, the Centre sent Liu Jinmei along went Liu Huili (a researcher from the Da’erwen Centre for Inquiries into Incidences of Environmental Damage—达尔问自然求知社环境伤害事件调查中心) to Qiqiha’er to continue investigations on Wang Enlin’s suit against Qihua Chemical Industry for the pollution of Yushu Tun Village lands. These two representatives interviewed villagers and visited the site of pollution. One representative then proceeded to the Intermediate People’s Court of Mudanjiang Prefecture to inquire into the process of filing a case. After viewing the indictment, staff from the Case Filing Chamber first tried to evade action by stating that environmental pollution issues should be taken to the Environmental Bureau, not to the courts. Finally, a judge from the Case Filing Chamber told the representatives that the intermediate People’s Court of Mudanjiang prefecture would only accept cases seeking damages worth over 5 million RMB. Because this suit only requested damages amounting to 3 million RMB, this case did not meet the criteria for the intermediate courts and had to be filed in the lower courts. On leaving the People’s Intermediate Court, the representatives immediately proceeded to the Angangxi district court and submitted the lawsuit to the Case Filing Chamber of the district court. The judge politely told them that he would respond in ten days, because he had to wait until the Court Chair and the Case Filing Chamber Chair returned from other business before he could review the suit.
On the morning of May 27th, the representatives went to the environmental bureau of Mudanjiang and met with the Director of the local Letters and Visits (Petitioning) Office. During their conversation, the Director showed the representatives a file he had created on the Qihua Group case, which included regular reports from the Qihua Group on efforts it had made to reduce pollution output and monitor pollution. The same afternoon, the representatives visited the Mudanjiang City Agricultural Association, but the Agricultural Association was overwhelmingly concerned with safeguarding their reputation and all relevant officials refused to meet with the representatives. One week after the Centre’s representatives had returned from their trip, the head of the Angangxi District Court Case Filing chamber contacted Wang Enlin to let him know that a decision would be reached soon on whether his case would be overruled or accepted. However, when Wang Enlin turned up at the court at the appointed time, the staff of the Case Filing Chamber had again found various reasons to delay their decision. Finally, the Judge of Angangxi District court told the litigant that the addresses he had submitted in the indictment for defendant and the defending party’s legal representative had to be corrected. Moreover, the court required the litigant to obtain official records from the local government and Agricultural Bureau on the land rights submitted in his land certificate. This was a highly impractical demand.
On July 18th-20th 2010, a CCTV journalist went to the pollution site to conduct interviews with the responsible Environmental Bureau and investigate the pollution site. The CCTV journalist and the litigant then proceeded to the Angangxi District court, where they were received by the Court Chair and Court Manager. Both the Chair and the Manager stated that the litigant’s suit was flawed, which is why they had not yet filed the case. At the present time, the case still has not been filed, but Wang Enlin is continuing his efforts to fulfil the demands made by the courts so that his case can be processed.