Land-protection policy meaningless, says villager

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 January, 2007, 12:00am

Farmer left a cripple and penniless after fight for justice

Former village party boss Pang Shaohai says the agricultural polices announced by the central government over the past two years may sound appealing, but they mean nothing to him.

Most of the 63-year-old's land was seized for an industrial zone in 2001 when he was party secretary of Pangzhuang village in Shandong's Heze city . 'They said they wanted to lease our land and pay us rent, but I never received anything,' he said. 'In 2003, they sold the land for more than a million yuan per hectare.'

When the local township government initially told him about the plan to lease 53 hectares of farmland for development, Mr Pang tried to exercise his duty as village party boss by calling a meeting of villagers to review the proposal.

However, he was detained with other members of the village committee for almost two weeks and forced to sign a lease contract. Later he was sent to a labour camp for about two months, where he was injured and left crippled.

'While I was in the labour camp in Dongming county, the authorities changed the makeup of the village committee and sold the land,' he said.

Landless and crippled, Mr Pang started repairing bicycles by the roadside to earn a meagre income. His 18-year-old son is now the family's main breadwinner, earning about 500 yuan a month as a road worker.

Mr Pang said he was furious when he saw further seizures of farmland and the industrial zone continuing to grow - even though it was half empty. 'Some of the seized land has been left idle, while some now houses factories. They are still seizing farmland,' he said.

He said central government policies on protecting farmland and giving farmers a say in land acquisition were never implemented at the local level. '[Local officials] can do whatever they want.'

Land seizures have become the most prominent rural problem in China since the notorious agricultural tax was scrapped nationwide in January last year, according to rural analysts.

While the scramble to seize farmland was cooled to a certain extent by Beijing's orders to raise the price of land acquisitions, the potential for profit continued to drive local officials to grab and sell land, said Chen Guidi , author of the award-winning book An Investigation of Chinese Peasants.

Li Changping , an expert on rural issues at Hebei University, agreed that land was the biggest problem in the countryside as farmers were not able to profit from land sales amid rapid urbanisation.

While more scholars are urging the government to give farmers the right to sell their land, Cao Jinqing , a Shanghai-based rural expert, believed any significant moves were unlikely because speeding up urbanisation remained the government's top priority.

He said he believed the regulations to increase compensation for land acquisition were aimed more at cooling the property boom in cities than protecting farmers.

But rural experts are also warning that new problems in the countryside should not be overlooked. Mr Chen said the campaign to build a 'new socialist countryside' had also led to a wave of projects in villages and increased the financial burden on farmers.

But he said it was natural that the abolition of the agricultural tax had allowed more deep-rooted problems to surface, and these were not as easy to solve.

But most rural analysts still agree that scrapping the tax has eased tensions in the countryside.