The nation is set to take a step further in protecting farmers' land use rights, as its top legislators are deliberating giving farmers another legal bargaining chip when their land is expropriated.
The proposed amendment to the Land Administration Law by the top legislative body would remove the compensation ceiling for rural land expropriation. According to the existing law, compensation and relocation payments should be "no more than 30 times the average annual output of the land for three years before it is taken over".
The amendment says that "fair compensation should be ensured in accordance with the law and in a just and open manner", which leaves more leeway for farmers to bargain with land seizers.
The move is long overdue, as many miserable incidents have erupted involving disputes between farmers and developers and other groups of commercial interests in recent years. In some cases, farmers have even committed suicide to try and block the forced take-over of their land; in others, farmers have been the victims of organized violence when they refused to toe the line.
Commercial interests are behind such tragedies. As China's urbanization accelerates and real estate prices soar, land taken from farmers can be worth many times the price paid for it when it is sold on the market. As a result, local coffers benefit greatly from increased land sales.
The farmers are the obvious losers and the law has failed them when it is needed most.
The amended law will ensure farmers can argue for more compensation when the land they are farming is expropriated. This is crucial for their future, especially considering the social security net is yet to cover all of them.
While it represents a step in the right direction, we should ensure that the amended law does not just play lip service to their rights. Media reports and scholarly research have found grassroots governments often play a dubious role in land sales as many of them side with developers when disputes arise. And farmers often find it difficult to seek help from the courts.
Therefore, it is a must that the local governments give up their GDP-centered mindset and, together with the courts, become more independent in dealing with land-related disputes. Otherwise, implementation of the amended law will still encounter problems in protecting farmers when they face unfair land expropriation.