Land grabs should be punished: Wen
Josephine Ma in Beijing
Premier admits local officials have violated the law
Local officials who illegally seize farmland should be severely punished, Premier Wen Jiabao said yesterday, pledging that the rights farmers enjoyed under the household responsibility system will never change.
When asked about the increasing use of violence by officials and police when handling farmers' protests, Mr Wen admitted that officials had violated the law.
He reiterated that farmers should be given fair compensation for seized farmland, and that people who illegally took land should be punished.
Mr Wen also ordered that most of the land compensation fees should go to farmers.
Most of the land payments by developers now go to local governments, which have the authority to convert farmland for non-agricultural use. The rest of the land payments go to the village committee, which again keep most of it, while only a small share reaches the affected farmers.
Mr Wen also pledged the land rights enjoyed by farmers under the household responsibility system would never change, but he stopped short of saying whether they would be extended to allow farmers to use land as collateral.
'The core question of China's farmers is land, and China's reform began with rural villages,' Mr Wen said. 'The most important issue is the implementation of the household responsibility system.
'The land belongs to the collectives, while the right to produce and farm the land belongs to farmers. We said we would give long-term guarantees to China's farmers to use the land ... we are saying it will never change.'
He said protecting farmers' land rights was a major principle for the building of a 'new socialist countryside', a government campaign to narrow the urban-rural gap. The government would assess the move through the benefits farmers enjoyed and whether their material and cultural life had improved.
Critics have said the campaign could spur another spree of infrastructure building, but Mr Wen warned against wasteful spending.
He said the extra funding was intended to raise the living standards of farmers and would help stimulate domestic demand.
Speaking on the sidelines of the NPC meeting, Land Resources Minister Sun Wensheng confirmed that the Central Leading Group on Financial and Economic Affairs - led by rural expert Chen Xiwen - was studying the land requisition system, but no immediate changes were planned.