Law drafters enter murky area

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 November, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 November, 2001, 12:00am

Rural experts have high hopes that farmers' rights will be protected by new legislation that will define rights to use public property.

A landmark law to define rights of ownership is now being drafted in order to overcome problems brought about by the murky definitions of various types of ownership.

However, the actual drafting of the law remains a difficult task as scholars and lawmakers are struggling to reach consensus on people's rights to use state and collective land.

The state sector remains a dominant force in the economy although the fledgling private sector has, in recent years, become a driving force. However, the existence of collective assets or property - which is owned by groups rather than individuals - is complicating the procedure.

Making the legislation more complicated is the existence of assets owned by groups of people. Land ownership and land-use rights are the trickiest areas in the legislation, according to one government source.

'The situation in China is unique because the state owns the land in cities while collectives often own the land in the countryside,' the source said.

'As individuals cannot own a piece of land, how to define the right to use a piece of land is extremely difficult.'

According to the rules of the Household Responsibility System, each rural household is guaranteed the use of a piece of land at least until 2028. Legal experts have said national legislation is necessary as the existing rules do not protect farmers against abusive local party committees, which are often the legal owners of the farmland.

'There are regulations which stipulate that the terms of contracts under the responsibility system cannot be changed within 30 years from 1998. But there are a lot of problems in the implementation of the rules,' according to one legal expert.

He said the legislation, if passed, would at least provide a legal basis for farmers to sue local grassroots governments if their rights were violated.

Because of the significance and the complexity of the legislation, two drafts are being prepared by academics and legal experts under the National People's Congress. It is not yet known if the Government will combine proposals in the drafts or choose between the two.

A legal expert said it was extremely difficult for those involved to reach a consensus because academics and legal officials viewed the law differently.

He said that although drafting the new land-use law was proving tricky, the legislation was important.

'It will be one of the basic laws for China,' he added.

The government source said the state had not yet decided whether it would extend farmers' rights to use land under the proposed land contract law for an additional 20 years once the 2028 lease expired.