The Ministry of Land and Resources pledged on Friday to ensure farmers receive compensation for the cultivated land lost to various land requisition projects.
Local governments at all levels owe a total of 2.9 billion yuan (US$350 million) in compensation to these farmers, said Pan Wencan, director of the ministry's Planning Department.
Pan made the remarks at a news conference announcing the results of the 2003 Chinese Land and Resources Review, which states the country has lost about 6.7 million hectares of cultivated land in a seven-year period.
Around 40 million farmers are estimated to have become landless during this period.
Liu Deshui, a 60-year-old farmer from the village of Yuanyi in the Jinzhou District of Dalian, a coastal city in Northeast China's Liaoning Province, had mixed feelings about the news.
Liu and his fellow villagers have been in the media spotlight lately, portrayed as typical victims of local government misconduct.
Their profitable shrimp ponds, which had been converted from grain fields, have already been developed into golf courses after being requisitioned by the local government in 2002.
The villagers are still waiting for compensation as they have lost their only means to make a living.
Although the ministry studied the case last year and demanded the district government pay the compensation, the farmers still have not received any money, said Liu.
But Pan said the government would remedy the situation for farmers who had a similar situation like Liu's by pressing the responsible officials to act quickly and responsibly.
The State Council has drawn up a campaign to tackle these problems and curb misconduct in land requisition cases. The campaign is expected to begin later this month.
Director Pan said he believes an improved land use order can help safeguard farmers' rights.
The golf course in Yuanyi is an example of this, as it was never approved by the ministry, although it should have come under laws which stipulate that only 70 hectares of land can be taken over at one time.
Of the country's 176 golf courses, only 10 have been acquired properly through the land use programme.
This is the reason why the ministry adopted a strict land monitoring system earlier this year, requiring local governments to report land use changes to the ministry every quarter year.
A national inquiry into land abuse was carried out by the Ministry of Land and Resources last year. It confirmed that many farmers have either not been compensated or have received very little.
Premier Wen Jiabao said in his report to the annual session of the National People's Congress in March that the government should ensure that landless farmers receive proper compensation.
(China Daily April 10, 2004)