Sowing seeds of development

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 March, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 March, 2003, 12:00am

China's rapid growth over the past two decades has led to a dramatic transformation of its landscape. As towns and cities expand their boundaries and highways are built across the country, more and more farmland has been reclaimed and covered with concrete.

For different farmers whose land was taken away from them, development meant different things.

All too often, their fortunes were dependent on the integrity of local officials who came to seize their land for various purposes.

In many parts of the Pearl River Delta, where large stretches of fertile farmland have been turned into industrial estates, many villagers no longer need to work because they get regular pay-outs from the local government for giving up their land.

From time to time, however, disputes have arisen where local officials allegedly forced farmers to give up their land, but failed to pay adequate compensation or share the fruits of development with them.

In some localities, abuse and corruption have become so rampant that pent-up frustrations have occasionally flared up into violent and bloody confrontations.

The Land Contract Law, which came into effect yesterday, is a step towards addressing the problem.

By properly defining the rights of farmers to their land, providing for proper procedures for its requisition and empowering them to sue, it is hoped farmers will be less vulnerable.

The law is a welcome step. Policing will be difficult, however.

Legal protection is not guaranteed, given that what applies in Beijing is not necessarily implemented elsewhere.

The rule of law remains a hazy concept in much of rural China, where the local judicial organs are also heavily influenced, if not controlled, by the local government.

Talk about China's spectacular growth, and images of glittering skyscrapers that have mushroomed in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and other cities on the east coast come to mind.

But a balanced view of the nation must not leave out the 700 million people who live in the countryside, where farming remains the only occupation available.

For the sake of China's development, officials at all levels of government have to ensure the Land Contract Law is properly enforced so that inequities and improper actions of the past will be avoided.