Company heads found guilty of polluting water face a fine of up to half their annual income, according to a draft amendment to the water pollution and control law.
"Executives or other people directly responsible could be fined up to half their previous year's salary if their companies cause water pollution," stipulates the draft amendment, which was submitted for third reading to the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee yesterday.
If everything goes smoothly, the draft amendment is likely to be passed tomorrow, legislators said. The existing law stops at administrative penalties for company heads.
The draft raises the upper limits of penalties imposed on companies polluting water, making them responsible for 30 percent of the direct loss from "serious" incidents and 20 percent of the cost for "medium consequences".
Under the existing law, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) can fine water polluters a maximum of 1 million yuan (140,000 U.S. dollars), which is seen as a major impediment for clamping down on them.
Environment officials and experts have been repeatedly calling for heftier fines on illegal polluters.
The NPC law committee statement says a fine should be imposed according to the severity of the violation, and a small amount does not help tackle the long-standing problem of "low violation cost".
NPC Standing Committee member Hou Yibin told Xinhua that fines should be heavier. "They should be made heftier, especially on those who violate environment rules repeatedly."
Another notable fact is that the latest draft amendment keeps a stipulation that was added to the second draft in December. It says water pollution victims can file class actions - a lawsuit brought by one or more plaintiffs on behalf of a large group bound by a common wrong - to seek civil compensation directly from polluters.
This is the first time that a Chinese law will make such an explicit stipulation, said Renmin University of China civil procedure law professor Tang Weijian.
"It'll definitely encourage pollution victims to file more class actions to protect their rights and interests," he said.
NPC law committee deputy director Zhou Kunren said the rules are aimed at better protecting the victims, especially those who don't know how to protect themselves through legal means.
Water pollution is one of the biggest environmental concerns of the government and the public as well. A 2006 survey shows that in general, China's surface water suffers from medium rate of pollution. One-third of the 744 samples tested were graded "V", the worst pollution rating.
SEPA figures show the administration handled 161 emergency environmental pollution cases in 2006, 59 percent of which were on water pollution.