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4 Local Gov'ts Ordered to Protect Arable Land
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China's land control authorities Thursday named four local governments who have been ordered to rectify illegal arable land use situations and pledged not to be soft or tolerant of any shirking of duties.

They are the Beijing Municipal government, the provincial governments of Henan and Yunnan and the Dalian City government.

Xu Shaoshi, the state land inspector general who doubles as the minister of Land and Resources, said all four governments have taken immediate actions to straighten out their problems.

The problems included acquiescing in land expropriation without actual approval, encouraging the leasing of farm land to get round the ban on confiscation and revising land use plans to erode the area of farm land.

Responding to the ministry, the Beijing Municipal government carried out a check and detected 442 illegal land use cases involving a total area of 1,053 hectares, more than half of which was arable land.

The Henan Provincial government revoked its prior approval of the land use application of Henan Fengshen Tyre Company supported by Jiangzuo City government and returned the 26.7 hectares of farm land occupied to farmers. Three other similar violations were detected.

The Yunnan Provincial government reclaimed 4.4 hectares of farm land from the Qujing City Government who illegally expropriated the land for the construction of a vocational education center. The project has been banned after the Qujing City government submitted a written self-criticism to the provincial government. A total of 2,034 illegal land use cases have been uncovered in the province since 2005 involving an aggregate land area of 655 hectares.

The Dalian City government responded by initiating an investigation which exposed 879 hectares of land misused without prior authorization.

"These cases are not exceptional. Quite a number of city and county government acquiesced, countenanced or even pulled the strings behind deals involving the illegal use of arable land," said Xu Shaoshi at a press conference in Beijing.

He warned that land inspectors would use all possible means--legal, administrative, economic or technical-- to catch violators. He added that the land use quota of local governments cited in these cases would be reduced for the following year.

"We will not let them get an unfair advantage", he said.

The world's most populous nation faces a severe farm land shortage. At the end of 2006, its arable land declined from 2005's 122 million hectares to 121.8 million hectares, only a stone's throw away from the official bottom line of 120 million hectares.

The central government has pledged to adopt very strict land control but some local governments obsessed with economic growth still break laws and brutally sacrifice the interests of farmers.

"The number of land misuse cases is going down, but the problem is far from being eradicated," Xu said.

Between January and May, China investigated 24,245 illegal land use cases, down 3.6 percent year-on-year, involving 14,667 hectares, down 12.14 percent year-on-year.

Ninety-nine commercial bribery crimes relating to land use have been uncovered worth a combined 43.3 million yuan (US$5.85 million). Sixty-six people received criminal sentences, with another 37 getting Party or administrative disciplinary penalties.

Chinese Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan has urged local governments and individuals to provide and gather accurate land data in the second national land survey that began on July 1st as up-to-date and accurate land data would bolster the government's tough land control measures and safeguard the arable land minimum.

"The central government will tolerate no cheating or changing data," he has warned.

Sources with the Ministry of Supervision and Land and Resources have required their provincial departments to submit monthly reports on their latest inspection results and the response of local governments.

They say that a new land inspection storm is brewing as the land use overhaul will be strengthened at grass-root levels, with the focus at government officials flouting regulations to approve illegitimate land use and the transfer of use rights for state-owned lands at cheaper costs.

According to a joint statement released by both ministries on Thursday, major leaders of local governments are to be held full responsible for perpetrations within their jurisdiction and required to provide full support to land inspectors and to respond quickly to problems.

The ministries urged local governments to "turn their head" to review the illegal land use cases uncovered between January 2005 and September 2006 to make sure past problems were rectified and perpetrators were penalized in line with law.

No organizations or individuals are allowed to hide or shelter land misuse cases.

(Xinhua News Agency July 13, 2007)

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