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Farmland protection
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An inter-departmental mechanism could give a powerful push to the country's resolve to reign in illegal land acquisition and thus contribute to the protection of valuable farmland across the country.

The decision, as proposed by Gan Zangchun, deputy State land inspector-general of the Ministry of Land and Resources yesterday, has topped a series of steps taken by the central government this year to check irregularities in land use.

Such a mechanism will facilitate the strict enforcement of land laws and regulations and promote inter-departmental cooperation and co-ordination.

It will also ensure the measures and moves the country has taken so far to rein in illegal land hoarding will bear fruit.

Among the measures, the ongoing nationwide campaign of enforcement on combating irregularities in land use, launched in September and to run till the end of the year, has already sent shock waves among real estate developers and local governments who give the green light to illegal land hoarding.

In recent years, driven by investment zeal and making profit, illegal land hoarding has run rampant in many localities. As also revealed yesterday, more than 22,000 cases of illegal land use had been reported between January 2005 and September 2006 which concerned a total land area of more than 328,72 hectares.

Irregularities in land use, if unchecked, will have very serious consequences as it is eating into the country's arable lands and compelling the country to redouble its efforts to feed its own people with limited land resources.

Dwindling farmland also infringes upon the interests of the more than 750 million Chinese farmers.

It could also tarnish the interests of urban dwellers, low-income people in particular, if local governments continue to approve land acquisition schemes in the interests of real estate developers. The land could otherwise be allocated to build low-priced housing to shelter low-income families.

As previous investigations indicate local governments are the main culprits behind illegal land grabs, it is also necessary for the central government to incorporate farmland protection into the official assessment system as the comparatively lenient punishment meted out to offenders is not enough to curb local government's desire to trade land use rights for money.

(China Daily December 11, 2007)

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