Officials deny evictees returning to partly submerged areas

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 December, 2007, 12:00am

Chongqing officials have defended their handling of the resettlement scheme, denying that thousands of disgruntled Three Gorges migrants have returned home, and blaming 'trouble-making' evictees for voicing grievances.

Ruan Limin , deputy director of Chongqing's resettlement affairs bureau, said he was not aware of people evicted because of the dam project returning to their partially submerged home towns.

'There is no such thing as evictees returning because of poor resettlement arrangements,' he said. 'I have not heard of such a case so far.'

Of more than 160,000 Three Gorges migrants from Chongqing relocated to some 100 counties in 12 provinces and municipalities, only about 5,000 people had returned, according to his bureau. 'They return to do business, as they have relatives and social connections here. They are not farmers and it is normal,' he said.

Mr Ruan also rejected evictees' accusations that they had been treated unfairly in the new surroundings and had only received a fraction of the promised compensation.

'As far as I know, 99 per cent of the people are happy with their new lives. Local governments receiving our migrants have paid a great deal of attention to helping them settle down as soon as possible,' he said.

Resettlement of Three Gorges residents was introduced by former premier Zhu Rongji in 1999 to ease land pressure in the submerged reservoir area.

More than 190,000 people from Hubei and Chongqing have been resettled in 'developed provinces and cities along the Yangtze and eastern coast', the State Council Three Gorges Project Construction Committee said last month.

'Those people who have moved out have made a great contribution to the future development of the reservoir area, where overconcentration of the rural population remains a big challenge,' Wang Xingyu , of the Chongqing resettlement bureau, said.

While the migration scheme received wide coverage on the mainland when thousands of residents near the reservoir area left their homes to start a new life, there have been few reports detailing their plight afterwards or mentioning their return.

Mr Wang said the poverty-hit counties of Yunyang, Fengjie and Wushan in the remote eastern suburbs of Chongqing had seen the people return home after they found their new lives too difficult to cope with.

In a rare admission, a Guangdong government paper said in 2005 that a fraction of more than 9,000 migrants had returned to their home towns because they could not adapt.

Vice-mayor of Chongqing Tan Qiwei shrugged off allegations that corruption was behind widespread grievances.

'Everyone knows resettlement funds are untouchable, like high-voltage cables, and we have been extremely cautious in their management in the past 15 years,' he said. 'There has not been a single petition case involving reservoir migrants so far.'

'Those who complain either lack understanding of our resettlement policies, or make unreasonable demands ... or exaggerate their problems due to discontent over other issues,' he said.