Number of illegal land grabs soars

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 March, 2007, 12:00am

Official admits 17pc growth shows problem is rebounding

The number of illegal land-grab cases on the mainland rose 17.3 per cent last year to 131,000, according to the Ministry of Land and Resources.

In a statement on its website yesterday, it said the cases involved nearly 100,000 hectares of land, up 76 per cent on 2005, with 43,000 hectares of farmland affected.

It said 3,593 people were punished, with two provincial officials being subjected to party disciplinary measures.

'It demonstrates the government has strengthened the crackdown on illegal activities in the field of land management,' the People's Daily quoted Zhang Xinbao , the director of the ministry's law enforcement and supervision bureau, as saying.

But he admitted that the substantial increase in cases showed the problem was rebounding.

'Despite repeated crackdowns, the continued violations in land management are mainly supported by local governments,' Mr Zhang said.

'It's not common for local governments to violate land rules publicly, but it remains a rampant problem of them secretly backing illegal land grabs for the purpose of attracting investment and gaining better [economic] performance.'

Rural land is often expropriated by officials for industry and real estate development at the expense of the rights of farmers, who often get little or no compensation and are left with no way to make a living.

Land disputes are common around the nation, especially in coastal provinces where rapid economic development has seen the value of land soar and they have also triggered large riots.

At the recently concluded annual session of the National People's Congress, Premier Wen Jiabao promised to tackle the issue. The Property Law passed at the end of the session seeks to protect farmers' rights and strictly control the conversion of farm land for residential and industrial development.

But Hu Xingdou , a Beijing-based sociologist, said illegal land grabs were the result of a systemic problem and would exist for a long time.

'China is a big country with various places having different specialities - some provinces are good at agriculture while some may not be,' he said.

'But the central government has imposed strict uniformity in land management, which inevitably causes land-grab cases in places that are weak in agriculture but strong in industry and business.

'To better protect farmers' rights, the central government has stepped up efforts to crack down on illegal land grabs, but local governments can use various means to cheat the central government to ensure revenue growth.'

Professor Hu said the problem could be solved in the long run if local governments were given more power and the central government implemented strict controls on land conversions in agricultural provinces.