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China Cracks down on Illegal Land Use

China has started the latest round in its campaign to rectify land use deals for construction projects during the past year as part of its efforts to protect its shrinking land resources and cool down the overheating economy.


According to the action plan approved by the Chinese government, seven government departments will join the nationwide campaign, which lasts until October of this year.


The government departments include the Ministry of Land and Resources, State Development and Reform Commission, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Construction, Ministry of Supervision, and Auditing Administration.


The campaign will focus on problems concerning the use of land and official approval of land use since last year, protection of basic farmland resources, the acquisition of farmland and the efforts by local governments to make up the loss of the farmland used for non-agriculture projects through land development projects.


Also high on the agenda are inspection of collection and use of the compensation fees for farmers involved in land development deals and their resettlement, and irregularities in public bidding and auction of land-use rights for commercial purpose.


Officials and developers who are found continuing to ignore the laws and policies on land-use deals and acquisition will be severely punished according to law.


The Ministry of Land and Resources said earlier this month it conducted probes into 9,900 illegal land requisition cases during the first quarter of this year in a nationwide crackdown on illegal use of land.


Sun Wensheng, minister of land and resources, said governments at all levels have uncovered 16,000 cases involving unauthorized use of land. The crackdown has checked the rampant use of farmland for industrial development, said Sun.


The land earmarked for construction projects as approved by the State Council in urban areas during the first quarter was down by 46 percent over the average quarterly figure for last year, he said.


The minister said the central government's strategy to contain excessive investment in steel, cement and electrolytic aluminum projects began to pay off through curbing supplies of land. The central government will also continue its policy of moderately limiting land supply for real estate projects.


Tian Fengshan, Sun's predecessor, was sacked amid the government's high-profile campaign to regulate the country's land market since last year, and most localities that illegally delegated the power of approving land deals to subordinate government departments have taken back such rights.


Millions of Chinese farmers were victims of the illegal land development projects.


The ministry said farmers were owed at least 9.88 billion yuan (US$1.2 billion) in land requisition compensation and relocation fees. Investigators found irregularities might have cost the government 20.7 billion yuan (US$2.5 billion) during the past several years.


China has reduced its planned development zones by 17,000 square km from 35,400 square km, and 1,100 square km of farmland has been re-cultivated.


Of the country's several thousand development zones and industrial parks, only 1,251 were approved by the State Council and provincial governments, according to statistics released by the ministry.


Meanwhile, the ministry and local government departments in charge of the sector will improve the way the land use rights are transferred by increasing transparency and competition, including public bidding.


The proportion of land plots auctioned will be increased to 33 percent, from the current 15 percent, in an effort to curb illegal trading in land-use rights.


(Xinhua News Agency May 25, 2004)


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