May 16, 2013 06:11 PM

Ministry Tells Local Gov'ts to Protect Peasants' Land Rights


(Beijing) – The Ministry of Land and Resources has urged local governments to protect peasants' land rights following disputes that have caused at least three deaths since March.

It published a notification on May 13 that ordered local authorities to make a priority of protecting the rights of rural residents from whom land will be acquired.

The announcement emphasizes that under no circumstances should violence be used in disputes. It also requires that all land acquisitions strictly follow legal procedures and that all people who lost land receive appropriate compensation.

It also urges local governments "to establish and improve a settlement mechanism for solving disputes and conflicts arising out of land acquisitions… and to control situations and prevent them from triggering mass incidents." The latter phrase is a euphemism for protests.

Forcible land seizures by companies and local governments have been a major source of conflict in recent years because local governments increasingly depend on land sales to generate income and make way for urbanization projects. However, people who have lost land often feel their compensation is inadequate.

Spate of Deaths

The requirements in the ministry's notice reinforced the central government's long-term commitment to protecting farmers' land rights, but their wording shows unusual determination to crack down on violations, a source in the ministry said.

That is because some central government leaders were shocked by the deaths of peasants involved in land disputes, he said.

On March 27, Song Heyi, a villager in Henan Province, was crushed to death by a forklift on his contracted land. The forklift was hired by the company that was trying to seize the land. The local government described the episode as "accidental" at first. However, the driver was later charged with negligent homicide.

Three days later, a peasant in Hubei Province, Zhang Ruqiong, died under a cement truck as she was demanding compensation from a road builder for flood damage to her house.

Four days later, Song Wuhua, a villager involved in a land dispute in Sichuan Province, was run over by a bulldozer and died.

The ministry said in the notification that peasants' compensation should be in accordance with the local economy so living standards will not decline. In exchange for land, the government may either set aside 10 to 15 percent of the acquired land for the peasants to manage collectively or compensate them with properties such as new homes.

The regulation falls in line with the central government's push for diversifying compensation methods when acquiring land, the ministry source said. Despite the notification, he added, the government was not mulling changes to the country's land acquisition policies.

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