A Chinese man has earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first man in China to sue the government for failing to control the smog and pollution in Beijing and surrounding cities. Li Guixin from Shijiazhuang the capital of northern Hebei province lodged an official complaint with a district court on Tuesday, according to a state-run newspaper. Mr. Li in his complaint requested the Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau to “perform its duty to control air pollution according to the law.” Mr. Li went on to say that he was looking for compensation for himself and other victims because he wanted to highlight the fact that they were the “real victims” of the choking smog that has blanketed the region.
While Mr. Li has captured the world’s attention with his first-of-its-kind act, the court and his lawyers are still silent on whether the lawsuit would be accepted. Court officials could not be reached for any comment on the situation.
Beijing has been enveloped in heavy smog for over a week and the National Meteorological Center has said that this will continue for at least another two or three days. According to the state news agency Xinhua, 147 industries in Beijing had stopped or suspended work from Tuesday onward in an effort to alleviate the dire situation. The China Academy of Sciences had over a year ago identified Hebei as a noteworthy source of smog. Being a largely industrial region, it has some of the most polluted cities in China. Shijiazhuang in particular was known for beyond index readings of airborne particulate matter in the early months of last year. In September 2013 the government had announced an action plan for Hebei by which new projects in specific industries would not be allowed, outdated cement and steel plants would be closed and coal use would be reduced. The province had also pledged to cut steel production by 86 million tons by the year 2020.
The pollution in Beijing that has prompted a frustrated Chinese man to sue the government seems quite justified as the capital endures the sixth day of hazardous-level air quality. The World Health Organization on Tuesday asked China to urgently fix its pollution problem and urged citizens to remain indoors. Bernhard Schwartländer the WHO chief in China said that the organization was discussing steps to improve the situation with the country’s officials. Speaking of his lawsuit Mr. Li said he had bought masks, an air purifier and even a treadmill to exercise indoors in December when the air outside worsened. However the next couple of months saw no improvement in the situation. “Besides the threat to our health, we’ve 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,” he said.
On Tuesday night the readings of hazardous particulate matter was 18 times higher than WHO’s recommended level of 25 micrograms per cubic meter. The region is now under an Orange Alert – the second most severe pollution warning and just below Red which is the highest level. The system was created last October as a result of intense public pressure on the issue of pollution. The Orange Alert has stopped construction work and banned fireworks and outdoor barbecues.
Even as concerned Chinese citizen Li Guixin awaits the results of his decision to sue the government for the pollution in Beijing, top leader Xi Jinping was seen walking the streets of the capital without an air mask. This act of empathy was widely lauded across various blogging platforms. The weather situation remains less encouraging with light winds and high pressure on Wednesday keeping the smog largely intact. An expected cold front from the west however is expected to bring some reprieve by Thursday for the people of Hebei.
By Grace Stephen