Beijing rejects farmers' call for land privatisation rights

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 February, 2008, 12:00am

A top mainland agricultural policymaker has rejected an appeal by some farmers for the right to privatise farmland, saying land seized illegally by officials should be returned to its collective owner, not individuals.

Chen Xiwen , deputy director of the office of the central leading group on financial and economic affairs, said yesterday the mainland would stick to its constitution, which says rural land is owned collectively.

The constitution stipulates the state ownership of urban land and collective ownership of rural land. The latter form of ownership has often been criticised by scholars as being arbitrary and vulnerable to corruption due to a lack of clarity about who should represent the collective.

'If local governments and developers illegally seize farmland, they have violated the law and regulation. If it is proved true after investigations, then the land should be returned to farmers,' Mr Chen said.

'Returning farmland to farmers means returning the ownership to the farmer collective, not privatisation of farmland.'

Mr Chen was responding to appeals by farmers in Heilongjiang , Shaanxi , Jiangsu and Tianjin , which have been described by some activists as a call for a second land revolution.

Online statements which claim to represent the farmers say farmers' rights cannot be protected by collective ownership because village officials often seize farmland without properly consulting farmers.

The most aggressive action by farmers was seen in Fujin , Heilongjiang, where they declared permanent ownership of farmland and started dividing the land they claimed they had recovered. Two leaders of the campaign were arrested and sent to labour camp, local sources said.

Peasant leader Yu Changwu was sentenced to two years in a re-education through labour facility for talking to foreign media. Another leader, Wang Guilin , who fled to Beijing and later returned home, was sentenced to re-education through labour this week.

A relative of Mr Wang, who declined to be named, said family members were not told the length of his punishment.

When asked if the seized farmland would be returned to farmers in the Heilongjiang case, Mr Chen only said: 'The authorities are still investigating'. He said the government would promote the transfer of land-use rights to farmland based on the household responsibility system this year and encourage local administrations to experiment with different ways of transferring land-use rights.

However, he said the prerequisites for such transfers were collective land ownership - often represented by village groups - and keeping the land for agricultural use only.

He said a national campaign by the Ministry of Land and Resources had uncovered 30,000 cases of illegal use of farmland, involving about 67,000 hectares. The Ministry of Agriculture was teaming up with six other ministries to clean up these cases.

Land disputes expert Yu Jianrong said the mounting number of such cases could not be resolved unless farmland was privatised. 'The problem cannot be solved,' he said.