A review of the country's decade-old Land Management Law will continue into 2004, with officials refuting reports that a proposed amendment would be tabled this year.
"The experts are doing their job to produce a quality proposal reflecting the further reform and opening-up of the country," said Long Bin, a chief publicity official with the ministry. "There is no plan to have everything complete this year."
Although the law was revised at the end of the 1990s, it has come under fire mainly for lack of flexible yet clear-cut stipulations on the transfer of use rights for collective-owned rural land.
The country's fast process of urbanization means more rural land will be turned over to commercial development, but the present version of the law provides no guidance on how this should be achieved. This has led to the infringement of the rights of farmers, said Li Yuan, vice-minister of land and resources, when the drafting of the proposal began in June.
While few details have been released, some leading Chinese land use experts believe the new proposal will better protect the proper rights of farmers who have their land resumed by government.
The abuse of land requisition powers has become a major problem, undermining social stability, Yan Jinming, a professor with the Beijing-based Renmin University, told a recent symposium hosted by the China Land Studies Society.
Yan recalled his recent field investigations in Beijing, saying every grassroots government he had seen had farmers asking for their requisitioned land back.
"Even though the land is used for the upgrading of public utilities, the farmers still feel they have not got reasonable compensation," said Yan.
Since Beijing farmers already receive "generous" compensation in comparison with those in other Chinese regions, Yan said the problem might be worse across the country as a whole.
Data from the ministry indicates many local governments, especially those in comparably backward parts of the country, can requisition cultivated land from farmers by paying meager compensation of 300 yuan (US$36.20) per mu (0.0667 hectare). In contrast, farmers living within the fifth ring road in Beijing can get compensation as high as 5,000 yuan (US$603.90) per mu in the same circumstances. Although the compensation has reason to vary according to local economic conditions, the revised version of the law should stipulate in detail compensation to eliminate excessive discrepancies, said Yan.
(China Daily November 14, 2003)