CHINA / National

Premier Wen hears farmers' concerns
Updated: 2006-03-20 08:10

TAIYUAN -- Elderly farmer Shi Fanding got what is likely the surprise of his life when he looked up from his weeding to see the premier of the world's most populous country reaching out to shake his hand.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (2nd R) talks with villagers in Nanshi village, Xia county of north China's Shanxi Province March 17, 2006. Wen made an inspection tour in rural areas in Shanxi Province on March 17-18. [Xinhua]

Just days after fielding questions from the international and domestic media about China's newly adopted five-year development program, Premier Wen Jiabao visited some parts of China's rural areas.

Wen traveled to China's Shanxi Province for a two-day visit late last week to hear comments and answer questions from villagers and farmers about the government work report he delivered to the national legislature earlier this month.

Vigorously shaking the Premier's hand, farmer Shi, from XiaxianCounty in the southern part of Shanxi, told the premier that he was happy he didn't have to pay taxes and to hear about increased subsidies for farming.

The premier spent two days hearing villagers' comments on this year's budget funding for farmers, agriculture and the rural areas. He also explained the government's latest moves concerning rural education, health care and growing prices of chemical fertilizers.

As part of the efforts to reduce farmers' financial burden and narrow the widening gap between the rural and urban areas, China'snational legislature scrapped the country's law on agriculture tax,which had been imposed in a varieties of forms for the past 2,600 years.

The premier also sought comments on his nationally televised address in the village of Xujiaying in the rural part of Yongji City.

A middle-aged woman told the premier that she expects the pro-rural policies promised in his address to be delivered.

The premier promised 339.7 billion yuan (41.9 billion US dollars) in funding from the central government for farmers, agriculture and the rural areas this year, a record high and an increase of 14.2 percent over last year's funding.

Zhang Zhansheng, head of Shijiazhuang Village Committee, offered the premier measures on the distribution and use of the funding, which he said is more than yuan for each of the country's 800 million farmers.

The Premier said Zhang's words were to the point and urged that the huge amount of money be used properly.

He said the central government will continue to increase its funding for farmers, agriculture and the rural areas in the coming years.

When questioned by a farmer why he had to pay tuition fees for his child since the premier promised free education in his address,the premier told the farmer he would not have to pay the fees from the beginning of next year.

China exempted primary and junior middle school students from paying tuition in the country's western region, the poorest part of the country, as of this year, and promised to expand the exemption to other rural areas next year.

In Nanshi Village in Xiaxian County, the premier was told on Friday by a group of farmers who sat with him that they had difficulties getting enough water for farming and drinking.

Located on the Loess Plateau which has suffered from chronic shortages of water as its per-capita rainfall is only one quarter of the national average.

Yu Zhansheng, a farmer in the village, told the premier that his family has enough food and clothes but have trouble with drinking water.

Farmers said the underground water they drink tastes bitter as it contains fluorin, which is bad for teeth and bones.

Farmers in the village gave the premier a big round of applause when Wen ordered Shanxi provincial and city governments to increase their funding for safe drinking water projects in the area.

At a primary school in Xiaxian County, the premier said children in both the rural and urban areas should have equal rights to be educated.

In Xujiaying Village's clinic, the premier told farmers that the central government plans to set up a clinic in every villages across the country.

China plans to cover 40 percent of its counties in a new government-backed medicare cooperative program for farmers this year, and will promote the program to all the rural areas in the next few years.

Under the plan the government will allocate 40 yuan for every account of farmers who pay ten yuan each.

The premier told Wang Jicheng, a farmer who joined the medicare program, that governments will increase their subsidies as fiscal revenues expand.

"We will certainly handle with care matters that are essential to farmers," the Premier said.


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