"The world's toughest measures" will be taken vis a vis the use of farmland for urban development so that farmers will be protected from losing their livelihood resources, the central government has pledged.
Farmers who lost their land to urban development and were not properly relocated were a major source of social "instability," said Chen Xiwen, a senior rural development official and deputy office chief of the Central Leading Group of Financial Work of the central government, at a high-level press briefing yesterday.
It was held to explain the tasks in the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee's 2006 "Document No 1," or the nation's rural development programme, which was released on Tuesday.
At the same time, Chen also pledged government compensation and relocation programmes for farmers who have already lost their land.
Protecting farmland and landless farmers is crucial for China to implement its "new socialist countryside" programme during the current Five-year Plan (2006-2010), Liu Shouying, a senior researcher with the State Council Development Research Centre (DRC), told China Daily.
According to Chinese law, farmland acquisition for non-agricultural purposes can be approved only by central and provincial-level governments, Chen reiterated.
And provincial governments are allowed to decide on only a limited acreage; anything above that requires the consent of central departments.
It has been made clear that economic development should make as small a claim as possible the nation's precious farmland, Chen added.
The country's Criminal Law prescribes a maximum of seven years' imprisonment for convicted law-breakers in farmland acquisition and transactions.
In recent years there have been incidents of farmer unrest as a result of their dissatisfaction with the acquisitions and compensation.
"The widening gap between urban and rural areas should be dealt with in real earnest," Chen said. "For those farmers who already have lost land in this process, we should give them job training and social services."
According to Liu of the DRC, the land protection system sets strict rules for local governments to follow when they plan farmland acquisitions for industrial and residential development.
Although the system may help curb the reckless use of resources for non-agricultural purposes, he said, it cannot change the trend of more farmland being claimed by industrialization and urbanization.
Nor will the system cut the number of farmers to be made landless, Liu said.
The key point, however, is to effectively protect farmers' rights while they are being asked to give away their land.
At yesterday's press conference, Chen also said that the central government is studying more changes in acquisition so that farmers' rights and interests are better protected.
Chen also said that the number of farmers is bound to continue decreasing in the new socialist countryside as more and more migrate to cities for employment.
The government continues to encourage farmers to take off-farm jobs near their homes because of the limited infrastructure and job opportunities available in large cities.
Chen said that for former farmers who are already in small cities, the residence permit restrictions are being phased out as long as they have stable income sources.
Source: China Daily