History shows that villagers will fight to protect land rights
At present 23 enclaves in country parks are covered by the Town Planning Board in its outline zoning plan.
This is just the beginning of zoning that will eventually affect 77 enclaves. The most controversial issue is that within the enclaves, there is a lot of private land.
Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing declared in the Legislative Council on October 9 that the zoning does not "deprive the ownership of the private land, nor would the incorporation revert the land back to the government", so compensation is not necessary. However it does deprive the owners of the right of "use and disposal" of their own land (Basic Law Article 105).
For example, in So Lo Pun, one of the enclaves surrounded by Plover Cove Country Park, 95 per cent of the zoned conservation area comprises private land and 35 per cent in the green belt zone is private.
In other words, without the permission of the board and related legislation, the owners are not allowed to use their own land as they see fit.
Historically, land ownership in the New Territories has always been a hot potato for the government. Back in 1899, the colonial government shrewdly converted the villagers' Qing dynasty title deeds to crown land and then leased it back to them.
The owners soon realised their changed ownership status and that they were being ordered to pay tax. There ensued a bloody confrontation between 39 villages and the government from Tai Po to Ping Shan.
The following decades were peaceful and then the owners suffered another loss of land when their peripheral areas were included in Hong Kong's country parks. Now the board wants to go one step further by denying their right of land use in the name of protecting nature.
It has never been the intention of indigenous villagers in the New Territories to confront the government nor to destroy the precious environment in the name of greed.
On the contrary, for centuries they have lived harmoniously with nature. However, when their private land is invaded, they will fight tenaciously to protect it. It happened several times in the past, and it will happen again.
To avoid escalating social unrest, the board must come up swiftly with sensible zoning plans and recommend reasonable compensation schemes.
Jane Wong, Fo Tan