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Measure to Protect Farmers' Land Rights

No requisition of rural land will be approved without the endorsement of affected farmers, the Ministry of Land and Resources announced yesterday, abolishing a decades-old practice of only publishing plans after they had been approved by the central government.

Wang Shiyuan, head of the general office of the ministry, called the new measure "a solid step forward" in protecting farmers against governments abusing their land requisition rights.

Although the country's current Land Managerial Law does require publishing the scale of the land requisitioned and the compensation involved, it has proved hard for farmers to get the plans changed once they have been approved by the central government.

From now on, Wang said, all rural land requisition should be subjected to discussions with farmers and undergo public hearings on its compensation before being submitted to the ministry for scrutiny. Wang admitted at yesterday's press conference that abuses of land requisition powers have become a major factor of instability in Chinese society.

Not only are a few Chinese governments at various levels free from farmers asking for their requisitioned land back, but some staggering cases are deeply rooted in the unfair treatment of farmers involved in land requisition. One such farmer burned himself on Tian'anmen Square earlier this year.

The crux of the issue is the compensation for farmers who lose their land to requisition. In most cases, the farmers complain about compensation which is much lower than the true market value of their land.

Although the government is entitled to requisition land for the benefit of society at much lower costs than those in a comparable case of commercial development, Wang said the government is obliged to secure those farmers' livelihoods in the long term. And the livelihood of most of them hangs on their small pieces of land, he said.

Statistics from the ministry indicate local governments can requisition 1 mu or 0.07 hectare of cultivated land from farmers at a compensation varying from a meager 300 yuan (US$36.20) in comparatively backward places to a rare 5,000 yuan (US$603.90) in more advanced regions such as Beijing.

Although the revolutionary move of the ministry has been warmly received, doubts were surging regarding the execution of the new stipulation considering that local land authorities are actually subordinates of various local governments as well.

(China Daily November 20, 2003)

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