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2018-12-28 07:18:41

A high court in eastern China on Thursday overturned a ruling that had imposed “sky-high” court costs on two nongovernmental organizations. The two groups — Friends of Nature and the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation — sued three chemical companies in April 2016 for polluting the site of a school in the city of Changzhou.

According to Thursday’s verdict document, the Jiangsu High People’s Court waived the 1.89 million yuan ($275,000) that a lower court had levied against the two NGOs. The high court also ordered the three companies to publicly apologize for polluting the land and pay a total of 230,000 yuan to each NGO for expenses incurred during the judicial process.

In late 2015, hundreds of students at Changzhou Foreign Languages School fell ill after the school moved to a new campus near the former sites of factories owned by three companies: Jiangsu Changlong Chemicals Co. Ltd., Jiangsu Huada Chemical Group Co. Ltd., and Changzhou Chang-Yu Chemical Co. Ltd. Parents blamed their children’s sicknesses — which ranged from skin and respiratory problems to leukemia — on the contaminated land.

In the April 2016 lawsuit, the NGOs asked for 370 million yuan to be put toward restoring the soil quality at the factories’ former sites. But an intermediate court ruled that the chemical companies would not have to pay for the soil treatment, and even imposed a hefty “court acceptance” fee on the NGOs. Under Chinese law, the losing party in a lawsuit is required to bear all costs imposed by the court unless otherwise stated by a judge.

Environmentalists have welcomed the high court’s reversal of the previous decision. Ge Feng, director of legal and policy affairs at Friends of Nature, told Sixth Tone that the ruling could serve as a legal basis for Changzhou’s municipal government to seek compensation from the polluting factories. “The ruling supports most of our claims — we’re satisfied,” she said.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: A view of the new campus of Changzhou Foreign Languages School, which in September 2015 was relocated near the former sites of three chemical factories, Changzhou, Jiangsu province, April 18, 2016. IC)