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A heavy-duty lorry receives a load of coal at a yard in Huaibei, East China"s Anhui province. [Photo by Tian Sheng/For China Daily]

Officials held accountable, many companies fined, ministry says

More than 600 companies have been fined about 58 million yuan ($9 million) for environmental violations, and at least 58 people have been detained, as central environmental inspectors reached the halfway mark in their monthly task of revisiting 10 provincial regions previously inspected, the top environmental watchdog said on Monday.

The environmental inspections, launched in early 2016 by the central government and headed by ministerial-level officials, covered all the 31 provincial regions of the Chinese mainland by the end of last year.

At the end of May, inspection teams were dispatched to revisit 10 of the regions, including Henan, Jiangxi and Yunnan provinces, where inspectors will stay for a month. Their primary task is to check whether problems found in the last round of inspections have been corrected.

The Ministry of Ecology and Environment said on Sunday that 630 officials had been held accountable for environmental violations, and the six teams that oversee the 10 regions had handled about 10,000 suspected cases based on nearly 13,000 tips from the public.

"The report from the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region to the inspection team has yet to include the number of people detained and officials held accountable," the ministry statement said. "Henan, Hebei and Heilongjiang provinces said a high proportion of tips from the public were not based on fact."

It added that local authorities in those regions should attach more importance to their inspection work.

Still, the statement said, inspectors will go to prefecture-level cities before wrapping up their work and will continue to accept tips from the public.

"Inspectors will reach the grassroots areas, and go to the sites to further investigate and verify problems," the ministry said.

The ministry has regularly publicized cases of dereliction of duty by local governments as the inspections have proceeded. On Monday, it criticized Jiangxi province for a series of superficial and false rectifications that led to a resurgence in pollution.

In one case, inspectors found that a factory producing industrial fuel oil in Yichun was still in operation even though the local government said it had been shut down.

Inspectors received information about violations by the company in July last year. The inspection team found in a recent revisit, however, that the factory was disguising its operations, using the dismantling of some equipment to cover its tracks.

"Without any pollution control facilities, the factory was engulfed by smoke and pungent odors," according to the fifth inspection team, which oversees Jiangxi.

Inspectors determined that the local government had failed to prevent the factory from resuming production several times after operations were suspended. Local authorities ordered the factory to shut down after a fire in March 2017, but equipment was not removed.

The inspection teams will continue to focus on violations that the public reported but not rectified, the ministry said.