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China Boasts Of 'Building The Countryside' As Farmers Get Robbed Blind

Op-Ed: In China, the government has long been deciding who does what, where and when, even jailing people for moving without a "permit." Now, its "Building The Socialist Countryside" policy has been relocating farmers i

Qin Hui

BEIJING – In China, local governments are organizing large-scale relocations of farmers, moving them into apartments in order to sell their land. They are calling this "Building the New Countryside," but it seems that building will take precedence over the countryside.

Should farmers be forced to leave their land for an apartment? I could understand the question if it were raised by an agricultural family.

But the issue becomes so obviously absurd when the people asking the question are officials -- and these officials are using their power to promote the answer as a public policy.

If a question such as "whether farmers should live in apartments' can be decided by the government, should it also decide what the farmers are to plant, how much and how they plant as well as who they eventually sell the harvest to? Housing makes up one of the basic necessities of people's livelihood - clothing, food, housing and mobility - if the government starts interfering in people's housing, where will it end?

Many of China's rural areas still lack basic public services. The government has the responsibility of these services, which go a long way to reduce the gap between urban and rural areas and should be made a priority. This is what the government should focus on, rather than trying to decide who can do what and where.

The government is supposed to serve the farmers and not the other way round. This should be common sense. It is also the norm in developed countries where public policy and social welfare go hand in hand. Although Chinese officials are accustomed to saying that they are "at the people's service," in practice it's actually the people who are at the officials' service.

Want to move to another city? That could land you in jail

Fortunately, common sense does seem to have made headway in recent years. It used to be very common for urban authorities to put migrant workers in jail for not having a stable residence or work in the city. In 2003, Sun Zhigang was forcibly taken into custody and beaten to death in jail. His crime? Not having a temporary resident permit. He had just arrived in the city of Guangzhou when he was stopped by police and "forced into resettlement."

Since that very public case, some local governments have decided that citizens are free to come and go as they like, without risking arrest. The homeless have freedom of movement, so shouldn't it be expected that ordinary people be allowed to live wherever they want?

In recent decades, a lot of farmers have built houses either for their own use or to rent out. The government has, up to now, denied permanent land-use rights to farmers and continues to threaten to take the land back. The reason why local governments are pushing farmers off their land is so that they can gain fiscal revenue and improve their "performance and image indicators' by doing so.

It is only in extraordinary circumstances, for instance due to significant public interest, that the civil rights of the people are constrained. Any change in land stewardship should be implemented under the vigorous democratic rule of law so that the definition of public interest is clear, the land transaction is voluntary, the alternatives have been taken into account, the price evaluation is independent and the compensation isn't lower than the market price.

Although the commercial exploitation of land involves the thorny issue of profit redistribution -which should not be wholly attributed to farmers- authorities could adjust the situation through the land tax instead of robbing farmers of the fruits of their efforts.

Read the original article in Chinese

Photo - Kyle Taylor

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Joshimath, The Sinking Indian City Has Also Become A Hotbed Of Government Censorship

The Indian authorities' decision to hide factual reports on the land subsidence in Joshimath only furthers a sense of paranoia.

Photo of people standing next to a cracked road in Joshimath, India

Cracked road in Joshimath

@IndianCongressO via Twitter
Rohan Banerjee*

MUMBAI — Midway through the movie Don’t Look Up (2021), the outspoken PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) is bundled into a car, a bag over her head. The White House, we are told, wants her “off the grid”. She is taken to a warehouse – the sort of place where CIA and FBI agents seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in Hollywood movies – and charged with violating national security secrets.

The Hobson’s choice offered to her is to either face prosecution or suspend “all public media appearances and incendiary language relating to Comet Dibiasky”, an interstellar object on a collision course with earth. Exasperated, she acquiesces to the gag order.

Don’t Look Upis a satirical take on the collective apathy towards climate change; only, the slow burn of fossil fuel is replaced by the more imminent threat of a comet crashing into our planet. As a couple of scientists try to warn humanity about its potential extinction, they discover a media, an administration, and indeed, a society that is not just unwilling to face the truth but would even deny it.

This premise and the caricatured characters border on the farcical, with plot devices designed to produce absurd scenarios that would be inconceivable in the real world we inhabit. After all, would any government dealing with a natural disaster, issue an edict prohibiting researchers and scientists from talking about the event? Surely not. Right?

On January 11, the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), one of the centers of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), issued a preliminary report on the land subsidence issue occurring in Joshimath, the mountainside city in the Himalayas.

The word ‘subsidence’ entered the public lexicon at the turn of the year as disturbing images of cracked roads and tilted buildings began to emanate from Joshimath.

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