Lower-level administrations have been ordered to prosecute a minimum number of unlawful land-use cases this year after reports that more than 90 per cent of local government-backed land deals in some areas are illegal. The Ministry of Land and Resources said a survey of 15 cities indicated at least 60 per cent of the land developed in metropolitan areas since September 2004 had either been illegally obtained or used, while in other cases the proportion was higher than 90 per cent. The findings correspond to a similar survey conducted last year of land developed between October 2003 and September 2004, according to Xinhua. The ministry said soaring fixed-asset investment this year had created a huge demand for land. 'Large volumes of investment are ending up in land, and a considerable number of projects use land that has been unlawfully acquired. Almost all serious land irregularities are linked to local governments,' the ministry said on its website. Zhang Xinbao, director of the ministry's supervision bureau, said more than 1 million cases involving land-related irregularities had built up between 1999, when the national Land Administration Law took effect, and last year. The ministry said local governments often changed land-use plans at will, and paid insufficient compensation or delayed payments to farmers who had lost their land. The ministry held an emergency meeting last month to address the problem and issued orders to provincial-level land administrations to process at least three cases this month and at least eight for the whole of this year. Land bureaus are encouraged to submit the cases to higher regulatory bodies if local governments try to intervene. Senior officials would be blamed and land-use rights revoked if the authorities failed to pursue the cases, the ministry said. Wang Yukai, a professor in public administration at China's National School of Administration, said local governments depended on land-use rights deals to fill their coffers, adding the central government's efforts to punish wrongdoers had been feeble. 'Since China introduced the tax-sharing system in 1994, local governments have had every motivation to boost their fiscal revenue. Land sales are a main source of their extraordinary revenue, so they are often seen paying farmers little and late for land acquisition,' Professor Wang said. In a show of determination, the central government has enlisted the Ministry of Supervision, the National Bureau of Statistics and the National Audit Office to help in the crackdown.