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Deadline set for settlements of land use violations
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The Ministry of Land Resources (MLR) has set a December 25 deadline to settle land violation cases filed during its 100-day campaign.

The campaign, launched on September 17, was implemented to crack down on local governments who illegally transferred household land to property developers. It would punish officials who failed to seek permission from higher authorities for land use and those who flouted decrees to expand the size of development zones.

The ministry ordered local land resource authorities to take compulsive measures against companies and individuals found to have violated land use laws. It would also halt relevant construction projects and return the land to local farmers.

In addition, illegal buildings would be removed and the cases publicized to bring shame on the perpetrators. Misappropriated land would be taken back by local authorities. Those found responsible for escaping government approval before using the land would be punished in accordance with law.

The ministry has required local departments to verify whether the land use cases had gone through the necessary legal procedures and to seek out those who have evaded certain authorizations. Users of the land would have to apply for new approval with all the charging items calculated by current standard that is usually more expensive.

Provincial-level land resource authorities were responsible for organizing inspection on key areas and projects. Regional bureaus of the state-owned land supervisory agency would keep a close watch on the inspection and report to the provincial governments and to the Ministry of Supervision, if necessary.

Land violation has evolved into a sticky issue in China as in 2004 the central government order promulgated to implement "the strictest land management policy". Since then, the order has continued to hit a variety of snags at local levels.

To some government officials, they still had an impulse to attract capital and technology by offering investors cheap or even free land resources, a practice that was rife along the east coast in the early period of China's economic reform and opening-up. To others, land yields remain a steady source of fiscal revenue for local governments.

Lured by such immediate local interests, some governments have stealthily restored development zones closed down years ago or acquiesced management of legal development zones to invite business for abolished ones.

Since a national overhaul to shut down inefficient or idle development zones started in 2003, the number of development zones in China and their aggregate land size have shrunk by more than 70 percent to 1,568 and 9,949 square kilometers, respectively, as of the end of 2006.

But rapid urbanization has triggered outrage from some farmers who were not properly compensated for the land they lost. It also led to a drastic decline in the area of land available for cultivation which prompted the government to set a minimum land area of 1.8 billion mu (120 million hectares) to feed its people.

In 2004, domestic policy makers started to track the speed and scale of new land supply in non-agricultural sectors annually to control land supply and boost overall macro-economic control.

Gan Zangchun, deputy director-general of the country's land inspection authority, said land violation had become increasingly discreet in recent years. In the first two years of the policy change (2004-2006), he said many government officials had blatantly approved illegal land use. After two decrees were released in 2004 and 2006, such violations became rarer but cases of circumventing laws and regulations had started to shoot upwards.

National figures on such perpetrations were still being counted. A recent overhaul on the newly-added land for construction in 70 cities, however, revealed nine percent of the requisitioned land had been put onto the market in the name of leasing to avoid prior approval. In one major city, about 67.4 percent of the land provided to local township enterprises was put on the market in this way.

(Xinhua News Agency December 10, 2007)

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