Court finds ministry failed to protect farmers in land grab
A court in Beijing has found the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources guilty of failing to protect farmers' rights and ordered it to withdraw approval for an illegal land grab by a local government, it emerged yesterday.
The plaintiffs - 150 farmers - had taken the ministry to court for nonfeasance after it rejected their call for closer scrutiny of the government of Wuxi city, Jiangsu province, according to the Beijing Morning Post.
They said the city government had announced in February last year it had the ministry's approval to acquire 15 hectares of land owned by the farmers' village for construction of a development zone. But they soon discovered the land was obtained for commercial purposes not allowed under state law.
They claimed the city government had kept the residents and ministry in the dark and then promoted an auction for an area of land larger than 15 hectares.
The farmers sent a representative to Beijing to ask the ministry to reconsider its decision and check the basis for the approval. The representative was snubbed and told to take the complaint back to the provincial and city governments.
After working through red tape for months, the farmers were told by the ministry on July 20 that their application for a review had been rejected because the 60-day time limit from the announcement of the acquisition by the Wuxi city government had expired.
The farmers turned to the courts. On Friday the Beijing Intermediate People's Court ruled the ministry had failed to act on their complaint and ordered it to withdraw its approval for the land grab and to review the acquisition procedure.
It is not known if the ministry can appeal against the decision and none of its officials could be contacted for comment yesterday.
The state introduced the Administrative Review Law in 1999 to empower citizens bullied by government officials in matters such as property development and the demolition of homes.
Meanwhile, Beijing authorities plan to amend regulations that have allowed large areas of the national capital to be demolished, Xinhua reported yesterday.
Under the new draft rules, developers can be fined up to 60,000 yuan if they demolish buildings without approval from the government or the courts.
In China's main cities, especially in Beijing, where the Olympic Games will be held in 2008, people living in central areas are being forced out to make way for commercial and residential developments.
Critics accuse corrupt authorities of working with developers to get rid of residents. Most eventually leave their homes, with little option but to accept non-negotiable and minimal compensation.