Demolishing a system built on fear
Josephine Ma in Beijing
New regulations aimed at intimidatory tactics that force residents from homes
Violent protests and an escalation of complaints over the forced demolition of residential buildings have prompted authorities to toughen regulations and increase transparency.
From March 1, demolition firms and government authorities will face fines, demotions and possible criminal charges for evicting residents through intimidation or by cutting off power, water and gas supplies.
Under the new regulations, no company or individual is allowed to demolish residential buildings without first reaching agreement with property owners.
Mandatory demolition can be carried out only by housing management authorities, according to the new Ministry of Construction regulations .
The new measures follow a spate of incidents where protesters set fire to themselves or threatened to commit suicide to protest against insufficient or lack of compensation for forced removals.
Many property developers have conspired with local authorities to forcibly remove residents from their homes on land designated for property development.
Xie Jiajin, director-general of the Department of Housing and Real Estate under the Ministry of Construction, said the central leadership had despatched special investigation teams. It had also ordered local authorities to pay extra attention to petitions involving forced demolition.
'The State Council leaders attach a lot of importance to the demolition of buildings in cities. They have repeatedly given instructions to redouble efforts to resolve the disputes,' she said.
Large cities such as Nanjing and Shanghai have either suspended demolition or revised down the amount of land for redevelopment, she said.
Beijing authorities have detained demolition workers who use force, and revoked their licences.
Earlier media reports said complaints over forced demolitions were a major source of protests and petitions to the government. But Ms Xie said the number had dropped after the authorities began tightening controls.
The government is also attempting to increase transparency in settling disputes by introducing a public hearing system.
At sites where a majority of residents have refused to accept resettlement offers from property developers, local authorities must invite residents with 'good social credibility' to be arbitrators at public hearings to decide compensation packages.
Residents can also make court appeals if they do not agree with the rulings of the hearings.
Other new measures include property developers having to notify residents at least 15 days before demolition takes place; and demolition work being suspended by local authorities if illegal action is taken to force residents out.
But the authorities also appear to have adopted a tough stance against organisers of mass protests and petitioners who take drastic action. In Shanghai, seven people who organised petitions against illegal demolition were detained by police.
Although Ms Xie did not go into detail about violence used by demolition workers, a list of illegal demolition cases punished by the government gives a glimpse of an appalling record.
In October last year, Wang Zhiyong and his family were blindfolded, bound and gagged as demolition workers raided their house in Beijing as they slept, the Ministry of Construction says.
In another case, Liu Fuwang, a man in Inner Mongolia, had his legs broken by people hired by the demolition workers after he refused to sign a resettlement agreement.