The number of illegal land expropriation cases increased sharply last year, but so did prosecutions, the Ministry of Land and Resources said.
The ministry revealed in a circular yesterday that 3,593 people, including two ministerial and provincial level officials, were punished after more than 90,000 cases of land use violations were investigated last year.
The circular revealed 385 people were penalized for illegal mining activities.
Meanwhile, the ministry said it detected and stopped some 35,000 illegal land use activities, saving a potential economic loss of 1.64 billion yuan (US$212 million).
The ministry also uncovered more than 130,000 cases of illegal land use last year, an annual increase of 17.3 percent.
The illegal cases involved nearly 100,000 hectares of land, nearly half of which was arable land, a 77 percent increase over the previous year.
"This demonstrates the country has strengthened the crack-down effort of illegal activities in the field of land management," Zhang Xinbao, director of execution and supervision department of the ministry, said.
"The soaring number of these cases and the increasing area of land involved in these cases showed a rebounding trend of violations in land management regulation nationwide.
"The local government-led land acquisition in the disguised form of rent is still the main form of violation in land use."
Zhang said the reason for the rebound was because local governments' blind pursuit of economic growth remained unchecked.
"Illegal land acquisition activities caused by the incomplete system, like 'land use without approval', are stoked under the mandate to pursue faster economic growth," he said.
Zhang said although local governments usually did not openly defy laws, they often secretly allowed illegal land acquisitions to lure more investment.
To curb the trend that local government was attracting investment with the promise of very low land use fee, even a "zero land use fee", the ministry has set bottom prices for land intended for industrial use, starting from this year.
Premier Wen Jiabao has pledged to get tough on land use violations to better protect the country's diminishing arable land.
Zhang said that many local governments had still approved luxurious constructions like villas and golf courses, despite bans.
(China Daily March 21, 2007)