Environment authorities in China meted out 124,000 punishments to businesses for environment-related wrongdoings last year, with fines totaling 6.63 billion yuan (959.5 million U.S. dollars), Minister of Environmental Protection Chen Jining disclosed Thursday.
The fines marked a 56-percent surge from a year earlier, Chen said at a press conference on the sidelines of the annual parliamentary session.
He struck an optimistic tone on the country's efforts to tackle pollution, citing improvements in air quality over the past three years.
Compared with the 2013 level, the PM2.5 density in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta all dropped by more than 30 percent in 2016, according to Chen.
"The improvement shows that China is on the right path of addressing air pollution," Chen noted.
However, the campaign against air pollution cannot be completed in a short period of two or three years, but will need a relatively long time, he added.
In 2017, the ministry will carry out environmental inspections in another 15 provincial regions to check their pollution control efforts. China will step up law enforcement to maintain a tough stance on illegal practices, Chen said, promising "zero tolerance" on such offenses.
China's revised Environmental Protection Law took effect in January 2015. The law is considered the strictest ever, imposing harsh punishment on polluters and highlighting the government's duties.