Abuse of power by local governments illegally seizing land, farmland in particular, is a common phenomenon nationwide, according to the supervision department of the Ministry of Land and Resources.
From 1998 to 2005, more than 1 million cases of illegal seizure and occupation of land were found, involving an area of more than 330,000 hectares.
In the name of developing the local economy, different means have been employed by local governments to dodge the law or relevant regulations concerning land use.
For example, according to the Law of Land Management, the State Council must give permission for the occupation of farmland for non-agricultural use. Yet some local governments lied to higher authorities in their reports, putting the occupied farmland under the category of non-arable land.
Such offences by local governments have been eroding the very foundation of food security for a population of 1.3 billion. The average arable land was little more than 0.1 hectares per capita in 1996. It dropped below 0.1 hectares last year, only accounting for 40 per cent of the world average level.
Farmers who have had their land illegally seized are usually inadequately compensated or sometimes do not receive due payment. These farmers stranded in desperate conditions would of course harbor grudges against local governments and become elements for social unrest.
Governments at various levels should set good examples in abiding by State laws and regulations. Such abuses of power have, instead, tarnished their own images and reputations.
If such practices are allowed to continue unchecked, the authority of the central government and the sanctity of the law and regulations will be jeopardized. If local government officials are bold enough to play tricks with the central authorities in land deals and get away with them without due penalties, they may be encouraged to do the same in other matters.
To deal with the situation, the supervision department of the Ministry of Land and Resources has declared that investigations will be conducted into two serious cases of illegal land seizure and has promised that those local government officials involved will be punished accordingly.
Ministry authorities have admitted it will be an uphill battle. But efforts must be made to win it.
(China Daily April 18, 2006)