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Last summer, several Ministries launched a joint campaign to inspect and rectify rural land violations. More than a thousand local officials were sanctioned over a three-month period as a result.
There should also be independent and comprehensive monitoring of local progress. Relying on self-reports from local governments on matters like this has been proven grossly inadequate. Sending independent inspection teams to the field will generate essential first-hand information, but it is not practical to have inspection teams everywhere.
The World Bank, my colleagues and I at the Rural Development Institute, and others have applied another useful approach to such monitoring of farmers’ land rights — including large-scale sample surveys — over the past decade. A further option is to create channels, such as telephone hotlines, by which farmers can instantly report violations as they occur. News media and grassroots NGOs should be encouraged to monitor and report freely.
Finally, in the medium term, an accessible and reasonably independent judicial system needs to be established along with legal aid services for farmers. Local courts can hardly serve as an impartial forum to address farmers’ complaints at present, because they are largely appointed and funded by local governments that are often the wrongdoers in land disputes. This link must be severed.
Meanwhile, legal professionals should be encouraged to provide independent legal aid services to aggrieved farmers, to at least partially mitigate the present judicial failure.
The clear implication of this powerful new document is that Beijing finally means business on securing land rights in farmers’ hands. Grassroots development and “peace in mind” should follow.p> Li Ping is head of the Beijing Representative Office and a staff attorney with the Seattle-based Rural Development Institute, which contributed the recent Cato Institute policy paper “Securing Land Rights for Chinese Farmers.” br> /p>
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