The Ministry of Land and Resources (MLR) said it would "thoroughly" investigate two land acquisition cases, in Hebei and Anhui provinces, with the aim to stem the tide of illegal transactions.
"The situation has become bleak for law enforcement departments when dealing with the growth of land violation cases," Zhang Xinbao, director of the ministry's law enforcement supervision, said at a press conference over the weekend.
About 22 hectares of farmland were destroyed in the two cases, the ministry said in a release yesterday.
Those who violated the land laws will be dealt with severely, ministry officials said. Moreover, government officials might also be punished for failure to supervise the situation properly.
In one case, Dezhong Steel Co Ltd in Zanhuang County of North China's Hebei Province was accused of having illegally occupied 11.2 hectares of farmland to construct a new steel plant.
The local land department ordered the company to suspend construction and dismantle its improper buildings, but the company not only turned a deaf ear to the order, but also refused to accept administrative punishment, ministry officials said.
In the second case, the Xiuning County government in East China's Anhui Province was found to have acquired land and issued certificates several times without the authorization of the provincial government.
For example, the county's land and resources bureau illegally approved 20 hectares, including more than 11 of farmland, for construction by a local company.
These two cases may be only the tip of the iceberg.
Ministry statistics indicated that China's farmland, because of rapid urbanization, had shrunk to 122 million hectares by the end of last year. As a result, the nation has set a minimum at 120 million hectares during the 11th Five-Year Guidelines (2006-10) period.
The problem of illegal land acquisitions is growing in general, said Zhang, the MLR director, who urged national land resources authorities to tighten monitoring, especially in the use of farmland.
More than 1 million cases of illegal land use were reported from 1999, when new land laws took effect, to 2005, he said. The cases involved 330,000 hectares, which was 25 percent higher than the nation's total area of new construction in 2004.
At present, the fact that many industrial projects are transferred from the east to the west helps to increase the number of large-scale illegal land acquisition cases in western areas, he said.
Local governments in some western regions wantonly promised to provide large areas of land for developers through the signing of land contracts, Zhang said.
"Such an activity would lead to the monopoly of land by a few companies, the loss of state assets as well the damage of farmers' interests because of low compensation," he said.
"The phenomenon becomes even more serious in some places, and nearly all of the worst cases involved the participation of local governments."
(China Daily April 18, 2006)