Premier Wen Jiabao is unlikely to fulfil his promise to introduce regulations to raise farmers' share of profits from land sales before his term ends in March after the National People's Congress Standing Committee failed to vote on a draft amendment to the Land Administration Law on Friday.
The draft was passed by the State Council in late November but will not be enacted for at least two months, with the next meeting of the NPC Standing Committee scheduled for February.
Experts said that even if the draft was passed at that meeting, it would be impossible to roll out regulations for a detailed compensation scheme within a couple of weeks, especially as Friday's meeting had not authorised the State Council to draft such regulations.
Professor Jiang Mingan , of Peking University's law school, said the key sticking point was whether there should be a cap on compensation for requisitioned land and how much it should be.
The Land Administration Law says that compensation to farmers should be calculated based on the land's original use and kept below 30 times the land's average yearly production for the past three years. The draft amendment takes out the cap and instead says "fair compensation should be paid to ensure that farmers' lives will be improved and their long-term livelihood can be guaranteed".
Jiang said the revision gives farmers stronger bargaining power but would exert a great deal of pressure on developers and local governments, who make a large proportion of their revenue by requisitioning land at low prices and selling it to developers at much higher prices.
Realising that discontent over land compensation was becoming an increasingly important cause of conflict in rural areas, Wen vowed at the national rural work conference at the end of 2011 to establish new rules before his term in office expired to ensure that farmers received fair prices.
He listed the issue as a top priority for last year.
Besides the removal of the cap, the draft amendment also includes farmers' homes and their social security entitlements as objects they should be compensated for.
The existing law only covers the land itself, crops and other improvements, and accommodation fees.
Wang Cailiang , a lawyer at the Beijing-based based Cailiang Law Firm, said lawmakers have been moving sluggishly because the revision would damage the interests of local governments and developers.
"Local governments' interests have representatives from the Ministry of Finance; developers' interests have representatives from the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development," Wang said.
"Only farmers do not have representatives on the NPC Standing Committee."