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Print Edition> Nation
UPDATED: January 4, 2011 NO. 1 JANUARY 6, 2011
Curbing Relocation Rage
New regulations aim to protect property owner rights and interests

One of them died and the other two suffered severe burns. As a result of the tragedy, eight officials were removed from their posts or investigated.

In late October, a man set himself on fire in a protest in Mishan City in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province and another man was beaten to death in Taiyuan in north China's Shanxi Province in a conflict arising from forced demolition.

"The earlier the revised regulations become effective, the fewer disputes and tragedies will take place," Wang said.

The new draft also updates articles concerning two key issues in land requisition and home demolition—compensation and how to define projects of public interests.

The issue of compensation was the topic the public responded to most during the first round of feedback solicitation between January and March, with 13,332 responses, according to the State Council Legislative Affairs Office.

The second revision makes it clear compensation must be offered to owners before the expropriation of their houses and must not be lower than the market price. Evaluation of the property must be done by certified rating institutions and can be appealed.

Definition of public interest projects garnered feedback with 9,161 responses during the first round of feedback solicitation. If a property falls under this category it can be subject to forced demolition.

According to the new draft the following projects are considered in the public interest: government projects involving energy, transportation, education, resources development and environmental protection, disaster relief, social welfare, public service, as well as office buildings for government agencies.

Local governments should ensure public opinion is heard through the holding of hearings or through the adoption of other opinion-soliciting methods, the draft says.

Rural issues

Meanwhile, some experts suggested legislation on confiscating rural land should also be initiated, in addition to revising existing regulations on the demolition of urban housing.

"Rural land, which belongs to farmers collectively in China, should be protected more strictly," said Ma Huaide, a law professor at China University of Political Science and Law. "Given demolitions are happening more and more in rural areas, legislators should start to standardize the procedures of rural land requisition."

According to experts, land disputes have emerged as rural China's most volatile social problem, as forced acquisitions have been generating social unrest.

Quick urbanization has provoked a new round of land seizures in rural areas to facilitate economic development, said Yu Jianrong, a professor at the Rural Development Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

"Since the reform and opening up, more than 50 million farmers have lost all their land and nearly half of them are jobless and are not covered by social security programs," Yu said.

The 2011 Blue Book of China's Society, released by the CASS, says that 73 percent of the petitions and complaints farmers filed were related to land.

Land disputes accounted for 65 percent of rural mass conflicts, which undermine social stability and economic development, the report says.

It also says the meager compensations and poor resettlement conditions common in land transfers are the two primary concerns of farmers.

Since the Central Government set a "redline" to reserve 120 million hectares of arable land, the minimum necessary to guarantee grain supply, some local authorities have been grabbing land covered with farmers' houses or plots designated for housing purposes, the report says.

Tens of thousands of farmers whose families have dwelled in scattered farmhouses for generations are being relocated to multistory buildings to vacate land local governments sell to developers for profit.

In Zhucheng, Shandong Province, 1,249 villages with 700,000 residents were combined into 208 rural communities with about 5,300 hectares of housing land reclaimed, Xinhua News Agency reported.

Kong Xiangzhi, Vice Dean of the School of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development at Renmin University of China, said living in apartment buildings is not what many farmers want and it substantially raises their cost of living.

"When farmers live in multistory buildings, they have to pay for everything from water to electricity," Kong said. "They can no longer raise livestock or dig wells, and live as they did in houses with courtyards."

Over the past 20 years, more than 6.67 million hectares of land has been seized from farmers, while disparity between the compensation and market price has stood at around 2 trillion yuan ($292.83 billion), Yu said.

So, some rural residents choose to fight for their rights.

In Longqiao Village, central China's Hunan Province, 74 farmers filed a lawsuit against the local government in November 2010 after they were neither properly compensated for not being well relocated when their village was torn down for the construction of expressway toll booths.

Facing the situation, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, said on October 28, 2010 that the amendment to the Land Administration Law would take the acquisition of rural land into consideration.

Despite this, the new draft regulations on expropriation of houses only apply to state-owned land, doing little help to farmers who demand their rights and interests on the collective land.

"Lawmakers should take the acquisition of collective land and compensation into consideration, because it is equally important and even more urgent," said Professor Shen at Peking University.

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