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Heeding call for compensation
By Zhao Huanxin (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-03-14 06:25

Farmers who have lost their land have at least one reason not to lose heart - legislators and political advisers are having serious discussions about their grievances, and proposing solutions.

"The standards of compensation for acquisition of farmland should be raised, and the basic net of social security should cover farmers who have lost their land," national lawmaker Liu Minghua said yesterday.

Liu was among at least 200 legislators who have signed several motions, submitted during the annual meeting of China's legislature in Beijing, calling for conscientious efforts to protect the interests of land-less rural residents.

Complaints that farmers were inadequately compensated or lacked subsistence after their land was expropriated or requisitioned have been on the rise in recent years, Liu said.

At least 40 million farmers have lost land to real estate development, industrial zones and other uses, according to a Xinhua report.

The government has tightened screening of development zones of all types to stop disorderly and unauthorized acquisition of farmland, and strived to ensure appropriate compensation for expropriated or requisitioned land.

In many regions, when it comes to using land for non-agricultural purposes, it is usually local governments, not farmers, that have the final say with regard to price and compensation, Liu said.

Citing his hometown of Chongqing as an example, NPC deputy Liu said a farmer on average gets only 21,000 yuan (US$2,530) for compensation and resettlement fees.

"Calculated on urban consumption standards, that sum is just enough for a little more than three years of living," he said. "Not well-educated and short of skills, farmers often have a hard time when the money runs out."

Li Yongzhong, a legislator from Guangdong Province, agrees.

The current compensation standards, based on a guideline issued by the Ministry of Land and Resources last November, promise to pay farmers with a fund of at most 30 times as much as the average annual output of the arable land in the previous three years, he said.

The figure is usually a fraction of the value of the land when its use right is resold to third parties, according to Li.

But sometimes even this modest amount of compensation fails to reach farmers quickly, according to the two legislators.

The authorities should lay out implementation rules regarding compensation for farmland acquisition, to ensure farmers have the rights of collectively bargaining for the amount of compensation for the land to be requisitioned, Liu said.

Local governments should withdraw from the "land transaction" process and become a kind of arbiter, he said.

Farmers, upon being adequately compensated, could be trained and use the money to develop other businesses, he said.

Both Liu and Li proposed a "land for social security" mechanism be piloted to make sure farmers who have lost farmland have access to basic medical services and other social welfare - just as urban residents do.

Xu Guanju, a CPPCC member of the country's top political advisory body, said instead of paying farmers a lump sum, the government of Zhejiang Province is reserving resettlement fees - part of the compensation package - for an endowment insurance for farmers.

The insurance, with subsidies from the local budget, will enable farmers who have lost their land to claim pensions, he said.

Chinese lawmakers have consistently spoken up for farmers that no longer have land, saying they need to be supported.

At last year's NPC session, 119 legislators called on the authorities to properly address farmers' complaints.

Part of the outcome is a nationwide drive to clear the arrears in compensation. By last November, 16 billion yuan (US$1.9 billion), or 91.04 per cent of the total arrears, had been paid to farmers, the Standing Committee of the NPC said in February.

(China Daily 03/14/2005 page2)

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