The Ministry of Land and Resources announced Friday - China's "Land Day" - that there are 6,741 development zones of various kinds in the country.
The zones are planned to cover an area of 37,500 square kilometers, which is greater than the 31,500-square-kilometre total area of land used for development in China's cities and townships.
However, more than 4,730 development zones have been found to be in contravention of land laws and regulations.
Withdrawal of illegally-built zones will decrease land area used for development zones by 24,100 square kilometers, or 64.4 percent of the total planned area.
Sources with the ministry said to date 2,617 square kilometers of areas covered by development zones have already retreated. Of these areas, 1,324 square kilometers have been returned to farmland.
The use of farmland for industrial development in China has been rampant and millions of Chinese farmers have been victimized during illegal land development projects.
China's top legislator Wu Bangguo Friday warned law enforcement agencies against the possible rebound of illegal appropriation of farmland.
He said the recent iron-fisted clear-up in the land market had yielded preliminary results, but local authorities were still displaying a strong lust for diverting cultivated land to industrial development.
He recalled that in 1998, China amended its Land Management Law in order to safeguard shrinking crop land, and set up a strict farmland protection system.
However, unlawful appropriation of farmland has again reared its head and even became rampant in the past few years, said Wu.
The country's grain acreage dropped under 100 million hectares last year, the lowest since 1949.
As a result, grain possession per capita was only 333.5 kilograms in 2003, hitting the bottom line for the past 22 years, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.
"We must keep a sober mind in dealing with the relations between industrial development and land protection. All departments concerned should strengthen efforts in clearing up illegal land requisition according to law," said Wu.
China started to regulate the land market early last year. Since the beginning of this year, authorities have discovered more than 46,900 illegal land requisitioning cases.
Nearly 14 billion yuan (US$1.7 billion) of land requisition funds that was illegally not paid to farmers has been collected, Vice- Minister of Land and Resources Li Yuan told China Central Television (CCTV) Friday. Most of the money has been given back to farmers, he said.
Sources with the ministry said after a year of action, blind move taken by many regions to build development zones have been curbed.
As a move to clarify the ownership of land areas used by Party and government bodies in Beijing, authorities are to finalize the issue of land use certificates to the Party and government bodies.
(China Daily June 26, 2004)