Rule of law can help end land disputes

By Dang Guoying
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, October 23, 2014
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Apart from inequality, this way of requisitioning land also breeds corruption. As "public owners" of rural land, village authorities can decide the price of a piece of land. And because of the lack of proper supervision, many village officials trade power for bribes to distort land prices. In some cases, village officials fix higher prices for a piece of land but pay affected farmer/s only part of the amount and pocket the rest.

Worse, some local governments use trickery in land deals, the most common being acquiring land in the name of "public interest" and thus paying the minimum price only to hand the plots over for commercial development and earn huge profits. Local governments can easily make such moves look legal because they control the paperwork, leaving cheated villagers burning with anger.

Bureaucratic thinking too intensifies conflicts. Most Chinese officials favor "uniformity", so when they decide to build a high-rise they cannot tolerate the sight of old, small houses around it. They contemptuously call such houses "nail households" and try every means to demolish them, sometimes injuring and even killing the homeowners. Such "bloody demolitions" violate citizens' right to life and property and send all the wrong signals about the bureaucracy.

These problems are potent enough to fuel violent conflicts. To solve them, higher authorities have to restrain the power of local governments. The process could start with legislative bodies issuing lists clearly differentiating between public interest and commercial projects, and making it mandatory for purchasing at market rates to be used for commercial purposes. They also have to tell local governments to stop their old, dirty trick of turning public interest projects into commercial ventures.

Besides, measures have to be taken to protect individual farmer's rights, especially from the machinations of village authorities. Generally, farmers' land contracts are for long-term use of land. Hence, farmers, not officials, should have the final say on the sale and price of land, as well as the right to say "no" to local governments if they don't want to part with their land for commercial use. And "nail households" should be protected by prohibiting officials from requisitioning land by force.

Of course, the solution to all these problems lies in promoting the rule of law. The country needs an ideal judicial system which would allow parties locked in a land dispute to seek the help of a court to get justice. Once such a system is established, no one would resort to violence.

The author is a researcher at the Rural Development Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.


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