The rights of farmers trampled, survey finds
Josephine Ma in Beijing
Violations of farmers' rights are rampant at the local level, prompting a scholar to call for a law to improve the protection of their civil and economic rights.
Li Xiaoyun, who with a research team from the Chinese Agricultural University recently completed a survey of six provinces, said many farmers' rights were infringed by local officials, although efforts by the central government did make it harder for officials to cheat peasants.
'Due to the dualistic social structure [between rural and urban societies, causing the rift] and the emphasis on efficiency instead of fairness, there have been no fundamental improvements to farmers' rights,' he said.
Dr Li, director of the university's college of humanities and development, said many local officials had infringed farmers' rights.
'If the same thing happens to urban residents, such as in a residential complex, the owners will stand up and fight for their rights,' he said.
'But in the countryside, farmers are indifferent to it because it is so common that they are unaware their rights have been violated.'
He said Beijing had helped to relieve the situation, but many local officials still found loopholes to flout the government's orders.
The survey interviewed 628 farmers from 60 villages in six provinces in the past year, and found farmers unhappy with illegal charges imposed by schools, the lack of transparency of village finances and projects, the slow or lack of response by local officials about their complaints, and with land compensation. Among the respondents, 15.6 per cent said their land had been acquired by local governments, of whom 79.1 per cent received some compensation. However, almost half the farmers who were paid said they were dissatisfied, with 53.1 per cent saying they were happy with the compensation they received.
Although the central government has banned local officials from leasing land without farmers' consent, this is often ignored, and local governments even use the excuse of building public facilities to seize the land and later lease it to developers for commercial purposes.
Dr Li said violation of land rights was one of the most serious problems in the countryside.
Another was the arbitrary charges and fees imposed on farmers by local officials and schools.
A total of 23.5 per cent of the respondents was unhappy with illegal charges imposed on them by schools, while many were unaware of their rights - 30.9 per cent did not know the government could not raise funds illegally, and half did not know there was a quota for the amount of money local officials could raise for infrastructure.
The survey also found that 26.4 per cent of respondents had fallen victim to substandard products such as fertilisers, seeds and pesticides, and only one-fifth managed to claim compensation from suppliers.
Dr Li said the findings were only the tip of the iceberg.
'The survey has not covered areas such as civil rights, the rights of elections ... and farmers rights are often sacrificed because of the dualistic social structure.'