BEIJING - Chinese police arrested thousands of people suspected of environmental crimes last year, a minister told parliament on Monday, as the world's most populous country vows to get serious on protecting the environment.
Facing mounting public pressure, leaders in Beijing have declared a war on pollution, vowing to abandon a decades-old growth-at-all-costs economic model that has spoiled much of China's water, skies and soil.
But forcing growth-obsessed local governments and powerful state-owned enterprises to comply with the new laws and standards has become one of its biggest challenges.
Beijing has repeatedly promised to strengthen monitoring and law enforcement, and a new environmental law in force since Jan. 1 gives it the clout to impose unlimited fines and jail sentences on repeat offenders.
Environment Minister Chen Jining told a bi-monthly session of the National People's Congress's standing committee that 3,400 companies and 3,700 construction sites were found to have violated laws last year, while more than 3,100 workshops were forced to shut down following inspections.
According to a transcript of his address published on the parliament's official website (www.npc.gov.cn), he said the number of criminal cases handed over to the police by environmental protection departments in 2014 reached 2,080, twice the total number during the previous decade. More than 8,400 people were arrested.
He added the central government had allocated 9.8 billion yuan (S$2.1 billion) in special funds to control air pollution in 2014, which helped "leverage" additional private investment of 300 billion yuan.
Chen said China would aim to cut key air pollutants sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide by 3 per cent and 5 per cent respectively this year, and would work to improve vehicle fuel standards nationwide.