A man demolishes a house in Luannan county, North China's Hebei province, on Oct 23, 2010. Provided to China Daily
BEIJING - China's land watchdog will begin an inspection campaign at the end of this month to stop the illegal use of rural land, trying especially to stamp out the expropriation of such land from farmers and the forced demolition of buildings.
"The illegal exploitation of rural land has violated farmers' rights," Yun Xiaosu, vice-minister of land and resources, said during a video conference on Wednesday. "Thorough inspections must be undertaken to protect the land."
The campaign, which is to last three months, was begun through the cooperation of the Ministry of Land and Resources, the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development.
Speaking at the conference, Hu Cunzhi, chief planner of the Ministry of Land and Resources, said the campaign will be divided into three phases.
The ministry asked local land bureaus to initiate the inspections on Feb 28 and report the results to the ministry before March 31.
On April 1, the ministry is to start producing policies listing what punishments and correction measures will be imposed in response to illegal land uses. Local land authorities, meanwhile, are to begin cracking down on such offenses.
And from May 1 to May 30, an inspection team will be sent to oversee the campaign.
Local regulations, if found to be inconsistent with rules meant to prevent abuses of land, will be revised or abolished, he added.
When speaking of the illegal exploitation of rural land, officials are generally referring to forced demolitions of farmers' houses, illegal expropriations of rural land for real estate development and the expansion of housing construction into certain areas without the government permission.
Because of China's fast pace of urbanization and industrialization, the demand for land is increasing sharply and the goal of protecting rural land is becoming more and more difficult for the ministry to meet, Yun Xiaosu said.
"Some local authorities are blindly encouraging the expansion of urban construction in the pursuit of economic interests, all the while damaging farmers' rights and undermining social stability," he said.
The Ministry of Land and Resources issued a document governing rural housing land in 2008. Since then, local governments in more than 20 provinces and autonomous regions have been forcing rural residents to leave their houses and move to highrise apartment buildings in cities or suburbs, all in an attempt at increasing the amount of arable land in surrounding areas.
The document allowed local governments to make additions to the total amount of arable land by taking land on which farmers had lived and building new communities on ground set aside for urban construction.
Every year since 2008, about 4 million mu (266,666 hectares) of arable land has been added to rural areas, according to the ministry's statistics.
Yun said the document is good in itself, but some local governments are using it for economic gain by undertaking real estate projects on the expropriated land. That goes completely against the original intent, Yun said.
About 65 percent of the mass protests in rural areas arise in response to land disputes, Beijing Times quoted Yu Jianrong, a professor of rural development at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in November.
"I am glad that the central government is showing itself willing to guarantee farmers' rights," Yu said. "This will ease the tension between farmers and local authorities."
But the chances of entirely overcoming the difficulties are slim, largely because local governments rely on land transactions and requisitions for the bulk of their revenue.
(China Daily 02/18/2011 page4)