Gansu to bring in reforms that put farmers on an equal footing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 August, 2007, 12:00am

A Gansu county has introduced an ambitious reform of household registration that abandons all social discrimination against farmers, regardless of the central government's caution on the issue.

The reform, endorsed by the government of the Subei Mongolian Autonomous County and supervised by the local social security bureau, went into effect last week, the Lanzhou Morning Post reported.

The entire rural population of the county, or more than 4,000 farmers, will receive a new household registration paper, or hukou, by the end of the year identical to those held by urban residents.

With that document, the farmers will be allowed to participate in urban residents' social welfare schemes covering education, employment, social security, housing, medical insurance and birth control.

At the same time, the farmers can continue to enjoy their land entitlement, tax exemption and agricultural production subsidies.

County public security bureau director Liu Yongqing said the measure would increase public spending but the government was ready for it.

He said the county leadership had expected the spending increase and had co-ordinated related departments before launching the reform.

'The benefit of social harmony exceeds the cost,' he said. 'The rural and urban residents will enjoy the same rights and bear the same obligations under a unified system. There will no longer be any discriminatory policy.

'[The reform] will bring an end to injustice, social problems, such as unequal rates of compensation when people die in accidents, and rejection of rural students when they apply for school.'

Subei county, with a population of 13,000, is in the north of the province and its economy depends on agriculture and mining. The average annual income was about 9,000 yuan last year, according to official statistics, about the same as the national average.

Senior central government officials could not be reached for comment yesterday, but their recent speeches showed Beijing's caution on hukou reform.

Ministry of Public Security spokesman Wu Heping pointed out in June that the central government had announced the goal of household registration reform in the mid 1990s and 12 provinces had participated.

But insurmountable obstacles had emerged, he said.

'The biggest problems are numerous public policies attached to the registration system, such as birth control, election suffrage, land ownership and the undeniable fact that rural and urban areas are quite different in terms of education, healthcare, social security, employment and public compensation.

'It is a historical issue that cannot be solved overnight.'

Ministry of Health spokesman Mao Qunan echoed Mr Wu's view on Monday by saying it was unrealistic to merge urban and rural healthcare systems in the short term.