Recompense for farmers weighed as row grows
Mary Ann Benitez, Ella Lee and Dikky Sinn
The government signalled it may compensate poultry owners who surrender their birds to comply with the ban on backyard farming, as a row over the lack of recompense escalated - with one farmer claiming he had freed 200 chickens.
The farmer, one of 10 villagers who protested outside a Heung Yee Kuk meeting in Kowloon Tong, said he had released his chickens in Shan Pui Tsuen, Yuen Long.
'[I am] not handing in the chickens. I released them over the hills. I am not handing them to the government. Why should I? Why should I co-operate?
'[We will] only co-operate when there's compensation.'
A government source said monetary compensation was out of the question. And Raymond Chan Kam-yin, of the Department of Justice, told legislators backyard farmers were not being compensated because they did not suffer from 'de-facto deprivation' and had not lost their sole source of income.
The kuk, which represents traditional New Territories residents, has threatened to seek a judicial review of the ban.
'[Poultry] is private property which can't be confiscated easily. We will leave it to the court,' said kuk chairman Lau Wong-fat.
On Wednesday, he said Basic Law Article 105 guaranteed private property rights and any confiscation of such property should come with compensation.
The government signalled its possible climbdown as lawmakers, who were attending the first meeting of a bills subcommittee scrutinising legislative amendments to implement the ban on backyard farming, backed a motion in favour of compensating backyard farmers.
One of the options being studied is to provide special farms to house pets in rural areas. The suggestion is understood to have been put forward by a pigeon breeders' representative.
About 200 pigeon breeders have applied for exemption from the ban on keeping poultry at home. Under the proposal, they would be allowed to keep them if they moved them to one of the special farms.
Health, Welfare and Food Bureau officials will meet kuk members to discuss this and other options for compensating farmers.
Since Monday, Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department teams have been going house to house in villages to enforce the ban.
Of 43,600 households inspected, 42 were found to be keeping poultry illegally, with 180 chickens and 57 other banned birds confiscated from them.
Aggrieved households and other stakeholders have been asked to convey their views to the bills subcommittee.
At its meeting yesterday, Democrat Andrew Cheng Kar-foo said: 'We are just talking about several thousand chickens, and if you pay $30 each we are talking just less than half a million dollars. But now you are using hundreds of people, spending a lot of money and not achieving your ultimate goal.'
Deputy Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Vincent Liu Ming-kwong said if the government paid compensation, the bill would be nearly $1 million.
Additional reporting by Jane Cai