March 14, 2002
In a sign that China’s rubber-stamp legislature is getting more assertive, a legislator has contended that projects concerning national strategy need to be examined and approved by the National People’s Congress (NPC), adding that a case in point is the gigantic South-North Water-Diversion Project.
Yang Zhenhuai, a member of the NPC Standing Committee and former minister of water resources, said Wednesday that with a projected total investment of 350 billion yuan (US$42.27 billion), the water-diversion project is larger than the Three Gorges Project.
“But while the Three Gorges Project was approved by the NPC, why did the water-diversion project skip ratification by the NPC?” Zhongguo Xinwen She (China News Service) quoted Yang as saying.
Construction of the project is scheduled to start this year.
According to law, the State Council should submit matters of national significance to the NPC for ratification, said Yang. But since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, only two major projects followed this procedure: One was the Yellow River planning and Sanmenxia Hydropower Plant construction approved in 1956, and the other is the Three Gorges Project approved in 1992.
Apart from gargantuan water-conservancy projects, major decisions such as abandoning farmland or pastures and reforms on taxation and medical care affect the welfare of the people and have long-term ramifications, Yang noted.
“The NPC needs to exercise supervision and examination on such matters to ensure that major decisions are made in a scientific and consistent manner,” he said.
Construction of the South-North Water-Diversion Project, the world’s largest, will take 30 years, which means it will go through several terms of government. Its ratification by the NPC can maintain the continuity of policies so that the project wouldn’t be affected by changes in the government, said Yang.
The project aims to alleviate the water shortage in northern China, especially in Beijing and Tianjin. The idea started in the 1950s, and there have been many controversies concerning the selection of routes, the costs of construction, the balance of regional interests and the protection of the environment.
Three routes have been chosen.
The eastern route will divert water from the lower reaches of the Yangtze River to increase water supply in Shandong, Tianjin and eastern Hebei. The middle route will divert water from the Hanjiang River, a tributary of the Yangtze, to the Beijing-Tianjin area, which also includes cities along the Beijing-Guangzhou Railway in Hebei and Henan provinces. The western route will divert water from the Dadu, Yalong and Tongtian rivers to the upper reaches of the Yellow River, aiming to ease the water shortage in Ningxia, Inner Mongolia and Shaanxi.
Minister of Water Resources (MWR) Wang Shucheng said earlier this year that conditions are ripe for the project and “every possible means should be tried” to start construction this year.