Members of the Taiwan Rural Front and dozens of farmers from Hsinchu County’s Jhubei City (竹北) yesterday protested in Taipei against a development project that would require the requisitioning of 427 hectares of farmland in the area.
The farmers and their supporters protested outside the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ Industrial Development Bureau because a meeting was taking place there to decide whether the planned Taiwan Knowledge-Based Economy Park can be qualified as a “major national construction project.”
The law stipulates that only such national projects can expropriate land from a designated special agricultural zone.
First initiated in 2000 by the Hsinchu County Government as a biomedical and integrated chip (IC) research and production base under the name the “Puyu Project,” the initiative has met with many challenges, including opposition from local farmers and trying to requisitioning land from a special agricultural zone.
To overcome the legal issues, the county government has been trying — unsuccessfully — to have the initiative classified a major national construction project by adjusting its content several times.
In addition to the original IC design and production base, the project’s current incarnation would include a campus of National Chiao Tung University, as well as commercial and residential zones.
“If the government approves this expropriation of land, it will be the third time that farmland belonging to my family is seized by the government,” rice farmer Tien Shou-his (田守喜) told media at the rally.
“Ironically, the area threatened with requisitioning has been designated a ‘special agricultural zone’ by the authorities, but instead of protecting it, the county government is collaborating with capitalists to boost up real-estate prices,” said Tien, who has won awards for the quality of his rice.
He added that it saddens him to see the nation’s arable land disappearing, a situation he said would lead to “horrifying consequences” if “one day, there’s another huge food crisis and we cannot purchase crops from abroad.”
“The county government has revised the project several times — it was first just an IC design and production base, then it became an industrial park for foreign investment, then a production base for Indian steelworks and car manufacturers,” said Chen Yi-hsu (陳義旭), vice chairman of a self-help organization in Jhibei.
“In October 2012, the county government said the space would be used to house the factories and headquarters of Taiwanese businesses overseas wishing to return,” Chen added.
“The county government making so many changes to its proposal shows that it does not care what the project site is used for, it only wants to seize the land so it can boost property prices in a scheme that will benefit both businesses and county officials,” Chen said.
As the protest outside the bureau took place, a group of land owners who support the development held a competing rally opposite to the anti-project protest, shouting, singing, chanting loudly in a bid to interrupt their rivals.
“This is a major project that would help boost the economy, without it, Taiwan will soon perish,” Chiang Shun-yu (江順裕), a former deputy of the now-defunct National Assembly.
“The small group of protesters affiliated with the Taiwan Rural Front should be held responsible if the country’s economy perishes. They need to butt out and let the locals decide local matters,” said Chiang, who is a lecturer at Minghsin University of Science and Technology and also claims to be a lifelong farmer said.