Anhui tests land reform in wake of plenum vow on rural property rights
In wake of party plenum, which promised to foster trading of rural land, Anhui announces it will let some farmers sell the land they live on
Anhui has become the first province to unveil a comprehensive plan to test land reform after Communist Party leaders announced following a key meeting that farmers would be granted more property rights.
The eastern province's announcement on Tuesday said it would let farmers in 20 districts and counties sell the land they live on and allow villages to sell or lease the land farmers collectively own, or transfer ownership to a company that would develop the land.
A skeleton communiqué from the party Central Committee's third plenum said the party aimed to "establish a unified urban and rural land market for construction" and would "give farmers more property rights".
It is not known whether Beijing has endorsed the Anhui plan.
The central government has been cautious about allowing the trading of rural land designated for housing lest it leave too many farmers homeless and trigger social unrest. So far, only pilot projects have been tried in provinces such as Zhejiang and Guangdong and municipalities such as Chongqing .
According to the Anhui circular, which was issued on Tuesday, right after the plenum ended, but backdated to October 28, governments in the counties and districts covered will facilitate the trading of rural construction land - meaning collectively owned rural land intended for non-farming purposes. Ownership certificates will also be issued by the end of 2015 for collectively owned rural land.
The province said it aimed eventually to build a unified platform for the trading of usage rights and the mortgage of various types of rural and urban land. No time frame was specified.
Under the pilot reforms the local administrations involvedmust ensure farmers can enjoy better lives if their land is acquired by the government for development.
The goal of these and other such pilot programmes is to reform an outdated regime that ties farmers to their land, even though they are now increasingly seeking more money in cities.
Anhui was also the centre of reform 35 years ago when China dismantled communes and allocated small plots of land to rural families. But its move this time is of less significance, as other governments started similar trials several years ago.
"I don't see any breakthrough [from previous trials]," said Liu Wei, a senor research analyst at the Lincoln Institute at Peking University, which focuses on urban development and land policy. "Other places will probably follow in the next few months."
Some observers have expressed concern that local governments, which depend heavily on the proceeds of land sales to repay debts estimated at more than 10 trillion yuan (HK$12.6 trillion), will not easily let go of such an important source of revenue.
Dang Guoying, a researcher with the Rural Development Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, disagreed. He said soaring land prices in the past few years had made it unsustainable for local governments to grab land cheaply from farmers and sell it to developers at a fat premium. "They have come to a point where reform is a must."