Demolitions turn deadly

Updated: 2011-09-30 09:14

By Cao Yin (China Daily)

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Officials are punished and the law laid down on destroying buildings

Demolition is often touted as an essential tool for urbanization and development. But in China, forced demolitions are no longer immune from public angst and come with harsh government strictures, as a recent incident in Northeast China shows.

In September Cui Jie, the mayor of Changchun in Jilin province, was ordered to tender a public apology after a local resident was buried in debris of torn-down buildings during a forced demolition in March this year.

On Sept 9, during a meeting of four ministries and central government agencies it was revealed that there were nearly 11 demolition cases in China in which people were killed or had committed suicide. By making the mayor apologize for his actions, the authorities wanted to send a clear signal that such actions will no longer go unchecked.

On March 24, a local property company in Changchun hired a demolition agency to tear down homes of more than 170 local residents to make room for a commercial property. Hundreds of people came to drive the residents out of their homes and tear down the buildings with 18 bulldozers.

Liu Shuxiang, 48, did not have time to get out of her home and was buried in the debris. Her family members called the hotlines of the mayor and police. Police arrived 50 minutes after the call while the local government received a call two hours later from the mayor's office. Liu had already suffocated to death by then and her body was recovered two days later, according to a report from People's Daily.

A China Central Television report in the past several days had indicated that despite the government order the mayor was yet to tender the apology. But a subsequent Xinhua News Agency report later clarified that Cui had apologized to Changchun citizens for mishandling the demolition work. The report said Cui had already apologized in an article published in the official Changchuan Daily on Aug 8.

At the same time as the Changchun tragedy has been receiving publicity, the government has been showing its seriousness by punishing over 57 officials in 11 cases of forced demolition that led to death or injury during the first six months of this year.

Among those punished was an official at the vice-provincial level, the authorities said in a statement on Sept 25. Of the 57 officials, 31 have also been investigated by the judicial department for criminal offenses.

The government has indicated that actions against officials involved in the cases of forced demolition include warnings, suspension from positions and expulsion from the Party.

"The punishment, or the administrative accountability, will be more severe for officials. It shows the government's determination to tackle the issue," says Zhu Lijia, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance.

In January, the State Council published a regulation on the expropriation of, and compensation for, houses on State-owned land. All the 11 cases involving forced demolition occurred after the regulation was issued. The regulation stipulates that demolishers must apply to the court first and then the due process, including public hearings and the offer of fair compensation, needs to be followed before the demolition.

"Violent demolition is a source of social conflict between the local government and residents, and triggers negative sentiment among the public," Zhu says.

Zhang Feng, a law professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, feels that the government needs to give more importance to the issue.