Beijing touts crackdown amid land-grab protests

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 September, 2011, 12:00am


Beijing has stepped up its crackdown on brazen land grabs and forced demolitions after a nine-month-old regulation intended to curb unlawful evictions has proved to be largely toothless.

A total of 57 local government officials have been penalised, Xinhua reported yesterday, citing a joint government statement. Of those, 31 are under criminal investigation for their alleged involvement in 11 cases of forced evictions in the first six months of the year that led to violent clashes and deaths.

Six of the 11 cases were deemed unlawful.

The other five were considered legal but badly executed by local governments, according to a joint investigation by four central government agencies: the State Council, the Ministry of Supervision, the Ministry of Land and Resources, and the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development.

The statement came after large-scale protests against land-grabs in southern China's economic powerhouse, Guangdong province, had simmered for four days and turned violent at times.

Lufeng, a city of 1.7 million people, saw violent clashes with authorities last week, when villagers in the village of Wukan ransacked a government office and police station, claiming that officials had colluded with developers to steal hundreds of hectares of farmland and use it for development.

The statement highlighted one case in March in which a 48-year-old woman died after being buried in rubble in a forced demolition imposed by the district government in Changchun , the capital city of northeastern Jilin province. The Ministry of Supervision forced the mayor to apologise publicly.

Observers say such cases are even more alarming because they follow the central government's introduction in January of regulations on the requisition and compensation for buildings on state-owned land.

The rules say demolition cannot proceed without a compensation agreement and renders illegal the use of violence or threats to force homeowners out. It came amid rising social tensions over forced evictions over the past two years.

In November 2009, a woman doused herself with petrol and set herself alight in an attempt to stop police and demolition workers from entering her garment warehouse in Chengdu .

Peking University law professor Shen Kui , who advised the government on the new regulation, said he expected such evictions to continue, even after the new rules, because local governments were given too much room to interpret whether an eviction was lawful.

Shen said the regulation also had other limitations, because it covered only buildings on state-owned land, while 70 per cent to 80 per cent of the disputes have been over development of collectively owned land in vast rural areas.

Wang Cailiang , a veteran lawyer specialising in home-demolition disputes, said that 11 were only the tip of the iceberg and the subsequent penalties were too lenient to serve as a deterrent. Land sales - often to developers who do not adequately compensate existing tenants - are one of the biggest sources of revenue for local governments. Wang said he had seen a growing trend in which local governments push for evictions under the guise of cracking down on unlicensed buildings.

That's because a significant portion of buildings in rural areas, or those built in the 1970s and 1980s, are not licensed or fully licensed - a legacy from old Communist Party rules - even though homeowners have been allowed to live there for decades.

Wang said: 'The licensing issue is raised only when authorities want to push ahead with an eviction if owners refuse to accept compensation deals the governments offer.'


Number of officials dismissed in Jiangxi province this month for failing to address grievances over land grabs that led to three bombings