Man sues Chinese govt for failing to curb air pollution

BEIJING - A Chinese man in a smoggy northern city has become the first person in the country to sue the government for failing to curb air pollution, a state-run newspaper reported.

Mr Li Guixin, a resident of Shijiazhuang in Hebei province, submitted his complaint to a district court, asking the Shijiazhuang Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau to "perform its duty to control air pollution according to the law", the Yanzhao Metropolis Daily reported on Tuesday.

He is also seeking 10,000 yuan (S$2,000) in economic damages from officials for the choking pollution that has engulfed Shijiazhuang, and much of northern China, this winter.

"The reason that I am proposing administrative compensation is to let every citizen see that amid this haze, we are the real victims," Mr Li was quoted as saying by the newspaper. He said he spent money on face masks, an air purifier and a treadmill to get indoor exercise last December when the pollution was particularly severe.

"Besides the threat to our health, we have also suffered economic losses, and these losses should be borne by the government and the environmental departments because the government is the recipient of corporate taxes, it is a beneficiary."

His lawyer Wu Yufen said her client's case is "relevant for everyone in our city". "Li could not take a walk or run like in the past as air quality worsened, and he also has to wear a mask now when he goes out," she said, adding that a city district court will decide by Friday whether to accept the case.

The court and the Shijiazhuang bureau could not be reached.

Shijiazhuang is among the 10 cities with the worst air pollution in China, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

The city's air quality index has rated pollution there as "very unhealthy" for seven straight days. The concentration of PM2.5 particulates that pose the greatest risk to human health was as high as 406 on Tuesday, according to data from the China National Environment Monitoring Centre.

The National Meteorological Centre has raised its smog alert for northern and central China, expecting heavy smog for two more days, state news agency Xinhua reported.

Beijing has been shrouded in stinking smog for more than a week, and in an effort to cut pollution, 147 industrial companies in Beijing cut or suspended production as on Tuesday, Xinhua said.

Hebei, a major industrial region which surrounds Beijing, is home to some of the most polluted cities in China. The China Academy of Sciences has identified the province as a major source of the noxious smog that hung over Beijing a year ago.

The government said in an action plan for Hebei that it would ban new projects in certain industries, close outdated steel and cement facilities, and slash coal use.

Beijing has empowered courts to mete out stiff penalties, but enforcement has been patchy at the local level, where the authorities often depend on the taxes paid by the polluting industries.

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