Illegal land acquisition is posing a grave threat to the country's diminishing arable land, a senior land official warned Monday.
Improper land use also hurts farmers' interests and threatens social stability, Gan Zangchun, deputy State land inspector-general of the Ministry of Land and Resources, said.
"Violations of land laws and regulations have cropped up recently in some areas," he told a press conference organized by the State Council Information Office.
Among the serious problems are relentless unauthorized expansion of construction land, especially by local governments illegally leasing land instead of requisitioning it; and the use of farmland for non-agricultural construction.
"Some local governments have arbitrarily expanded development zones in violation of the master plan for land use, and encroached on land using various pretexts," he said.
The government has set a target of a minimum of 120 million hectares for arable land but there are only about 121.8 million hectares now, making it a "very demanding task to achieve the goal", he said.
The official also warned that illegal acquisitions leave farmers' interests unprotected by law, which can cause disputes and social instability.
That's because once enterprises using the land run into financial problems or go bankrupt, farmers can neither get the rent nor reclaim the land.
Land is the fundamental means of production for about 750 million farmers and plays a significant role in social security.
In the latest effort to combat illegal land acquisition, the Ministry of Land and Resources will launch a nationwide campaign which will last till the end of this year to check land law enforcement, Gan said.
He acknowledged that corruption involving land business is widespread.
The booming property market and soaring housing prices have made land sales a lucrative business for local governments.
A slew of officials, including some of high rank, have been caught for land-related corruption in recent years, such as siphoning off land sale proceeds or abusing their power to improperly allot land.
Zhang Xinbao, director of the supervision bureau of the ministry, said that land law violators are increasingly under the microscope. Of the 1,221 who faced criminal charges from 2000 to 2006, 501 alone were charged last year, he said.