ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION: The No.1 tailing pond of the Dexing Copper Mine in Dexing City, Jiangxi Province, has turned into a green field after 30 years of reclamation efforts (XINHUA)
Official statistics show that presently, 25 percent of the wasteland created by industrial processes have been reclaimed, which is significantly higher than the national average reclamation rate in the 1980s, when it was a paltry 2 percent. Nonetheless, at the end of 2009, more than 6.7 million hectares of abandoned mining sites remained unclaimed.
If these abandoned mining sites are left to recover by themselves, it will take at least half a century for vegetation to restore, and if topsoil has been completely removed, the recovery process will be even longer, experts say.
To ensure that land ruined by production activities will be reclaimed, the Chinese Government has introduced several laws and regulations on the issue. Among them, rules issued in 1988 stipulate that "whoever damages the land should reclaim it."
Yet for a long time, some local governments stubbornly pursued gross domestic product growth while businesses single-mindedly sought profit, so they did not attach importance to the sustainable use of land resources and as a result land reclamation rates remained low.
In recent years, however, this situation has begun to change due to the rising public awareness of the need for environmental protection and ecological conservation.
In March 2012, the State Council, China's cabinet, released a national land restoration plan for 2011-15, setting the goal of achieving a 100-percent reclamation rate for land newly damaged by industrial production and a 35-percent reclamation rate for land damaged by production occurring in the past.
While conducting research, the Ministry of Land and Resources found that the primary reason for wasteland not being reclaimed was that the obligated party did not want to accept the financial responsibility, so they instead put the burden on the government, said Wang Shouzhi, Director of the ministry's Policy and Regulation Department.
In response, the State Council proclaimed the Regulations of Land Reclamation in February 2011. In order to facilitate the implementation of the regulations, the Ministry of Land and Resources produced detailed measures, which went into effect on March 1.
The regulations say that the party responsible for land reclamation must add the consequent costs to their production budgets or a project's planned investment.
According to the regulations, any responsible party who fails to reclaim damaged land or whose reclaimed land does not meet standards must pay a land reclamation fee to land and resources authorities, who will then organize reclamation on behalf of the responsible party.
The regulations also state that if a responsible party fails to pay the land reclamation fee promptly, it will be fined an amount ranging between one to two times the required land reclamation fee. Mining companies violating the rules will also have their mining licenses revoked.
The regulations further stipulate that responsible parties must first pay a deposit equivalent to the estimated amount of the land reclamation fee one month in advance of any project's launch.
Article 16 of the implementation measures says that the responsible party should open a special bank account for this purpose with approval from relevant county-level land and resources authorities and then put it under the supervision of those authorities.
As a reward, however, responsible parties who have restored damaged farmland to their original condition can reclaim the tax they paid for farmland use, according to the regulations.
In addition to tax incentives, some responsible parties have been motivated to rehabilitate the land by profit from reclaimed land.
Yangquan City in north China's Shanxi Province has a large quantity of land damaged by mining activities. Since 2008, a local company has reclaimed 200 hectares of the land for farming purpose. Now, the company has more than 200 vegetable greenhouses, which produce more than 1,000 tons of pollution-free fresh vegetables.
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