Law against illegal land sales must be enacted, rural officials told

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 February, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 February, 2004, 12:00am

Local governments have been urged to stop all illegal land sales by next month in a bid to curb unchecked development of China's rural regions.

A Ministry of Land and Resources circular urged local governments to follow Beijing's decision last July to suspend approvals of new development zones and to close some existing ones.

So far, 2,426 zones have been closed and 294 integrated.

Land abuses were rampant across the country despite the recent elimination of hundreds of development zones and industrial parks, the ministry said in a China Daily report yesterday.

The projects have become a breeding ground for graft as developers often bribe officials to sell them land rights at below-market prices.

'Too many officials have actually been looking on without taking action or have been trying to get by under [false] pretences,' the ministry said in the circular.

The central government drive is part of a campaign to curb land wastage and corruption in real estate developments, which account for 35,400 sq km of the mainland's total land area.

Officials often seize land illegally, evicting residents, mostly farmers, without little or no compensation. More than 168,000 illegal land deals were reported last year, the ministry said.

As a result of the abuses, arable land is left idle and rural economic instability rises. The mainland's arable land has reportedly shrunk by 667,000 hectares annually over the past seven years.

Many farmers have also stopped investing in more profitable crops because they fear losing their land and some have quit agriculture altogether.

The ministry circular, which urged local governments to enforce the measures by March 25, follows a central government appeal this month to raise peasants' income and reverse the widening economic disparity between urban and rural areas.

In addition to closing projects, the central government has acted to discipline corrupt cadres while trying to strengthen farmers' legal rights.

Last October, then land and resources minister Tian Fengshan was sacked for illegal land deals during his tenure as Heilongjiang governor from 1995 to 1999.

The Rural Land Contract Law, which came into effect last March, guarantees farmers the right to use their land for 30 years and the opportunity to lease the land without government interference.