China's draft house expropriation regulation sparks debate

09:56, January 30, 2010      

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Chinese whose homes are to be demolished for redevelopment should be paid with market prices and can sue over disputes before any demolition, according to a draft regulation issued on Friday.

The draft regulation on expropriation of houses on state-owned land and relevant compensation was posted on the website of the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council, to solicit public opinions till Feb. 12.

The draft regulation became top news on most of China's news websites as soon as it was released and sparked heated public debate.

As of 9 p.m. Friday, more than 117,680 people had visited the Legislative Affairs Office's website to view the full version of the draft. More than 2,400 people have left comments online to the Office.

The draft spelt out conditions, due process and compensation of expropriation intended for public interests, such as national defense, key national projects of energy, transportation and education, and housing projects for people with relatively low incomes.

Compensations should be offered to owners before expropriation of their houses built on state-owned land, and should not be less than the market prices of similar houses, the draft read.

Local government should, by holding hearings or adopting other opinion soliciting methods, ensure that the public opinions can be heard.

"This is definitely a big step forward," said Prof. Wang Xixin from Peking University Law School, one of the regulation's drafters.

On Dec. 7 last year, five professors from the Peking University, including Wang, claimed, in an open letter to the National People's Congress, China's parliament, the current demolition regulation was unconstitutional and violated the Property Rights Law.

The existing demolition regulation took effect in 2001, granting the forced demolition.

One of the major problems of the existing demolition regulation was that it focused solely on the "demolition" and "administration", Wang said.

He said the new draft regulation, which used "expropriation" instead of "demolition" in its title, showcased a shift of the government's emphasis, and its respect for and protection of the citizens' personal property.

Expropriation of houses has become a hot topic in China, where booming urban development made relocation of households a common phenomenon. Forced demolition frequently led to confrontations, sometimes even mass incidents.

On Nov. 13, 2009, a 47-year-old woman, Tang Fuzhen in southwestern Sichuan Province, set herself on fire to protest the forced demolition of her house. Tang died in hospital 16 days later.

In June 2008, Pan Rong and her husband stood on the roof of their house in Shanghai and threw Molotov cocktail to the approaching bulldozer.

Pan's efforts to protect her home failed at last when the bulldozer destroyed the walls, forcing the couple away from the house.

In both cases, the local governments insisted that the forced demolitions were lawful.

According to the new draft regulation, no violence, coercion, or other illegal means, such as cutting off the water or power supply of the houses, should be employed in the demolition procedures.

Prof. Wang Yukai with the China National School of Administration said the draft regulation imposed more restrictions on the government's administrative power in relocation procedures.

The changes showed that the Chinese government was becoming more people-oriented, Wang said.

In contrast to most scholars' positive attitude, many netizens were skeptical.

In an online survey conducted by Sohu.com, a popular Chinese Internet portal, more than 42 percent of 8,600 people polled said they did not believe the draft regulation could completely solve housing expropriation disputes in China.

More than 24 percent of the polled said they were not sure, whereas only a little more than 33 percent said the draft regulation could ensure justice.

In the BBS of Xinhua News Agency's website, some netizens said the draft regulation was not enough for the protection of people's private properties, as it failed to cover collective land in China's rural areas.

"After all, most of China's housing expropriation disputes occur in the junction regions of China's urban and rural areas," one netizen wrote.

His opinion was shared by Prof. Cai Dingjian from the China National School of Administration.

"In fact, there are even more expropriation-induced disputes in rural areas than in cities, and they sometimes became the fuse of mass incidents," Cai said.

In addition, Cai said that the country should have a law on expropriation of houses and relevant compensation, instead of just an administrative regulation.

Source:Xinhua
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