Behind the call by most provinces and autonomous regions for more land quotas is the urge for higher gross domestic product (GDP) and more income from land sales, which definitely goes against the central government's strategy for transformation of the country's development mode.
At a meeting convened by the Ministry of Land and Resources on Thursday last week, almost all of the 31 provinces and autonomous regions claimed that their land use quotas only met one-third of their needs.
However, official statistics show that many of them have large areas of land left undeveloped even though they have had approval for some time.
Investigations by the ministry suggest that quite a number of localities use the approved quotas of land to guarantee the GDP growth rather than using them for necessary infrastructure and projects to improve residents' lives.
In an extreme case, a poverty-stricken county in East China's Anhui province occupied large areas of arable land and built office buildings without approval from the central government. The per capita office area is as large as 100 square meters, much larger than the required standard of 20 square meters. The total investment in these buildings was 1.5 billion yuan, more than the county's annual revenue of 1.2 billion yuan.
The State Council released a notice early last week, prohibiting local governments from placing too much emphasis on big construction projects in cities forcing rural villagers to move and depriving them of both their arable land and their original homes.
Premier Wen Jiabao stressed during an inspection tour of a rural area that villagers should never be forced to give up their land use rights for an urban household registration or a home in apartment buildings.
It goes without saying that most local governments are yet to grasp the essence of the central government's strategy for the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) or they just pretend to be oblivious of it. The new development mode requires quality rather than quantity, sustainability rather than the GDP figures at the expense of the environment and resources.
In that spirit, sales of land cannot remain the major channel of financial revenue for local governments as has been the case in the past. Urban development cannot be sustained only by continued construction of huge projects, which not only waste resources, but also divert money from what the government should have done to improve the lives of residents.
On this matter, the central government needs to have more effective measures to tighten control over their local counterparts. Otherwise, the transformation of the development mode will not materialize, and the conflict between local governments and villagers will get worse, at the cost of the country's sustainable growth and social stability.