Illegal land use found common in eastern areas

08:43, February 15, 2011      

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Illegal land use is rampant in East China's Shanghai municipality, as well as Zhejiang and Fujian provinces, where the unlawful location of industrial and infrastructure projects on farmland is particularly serious, the Shanghai Bureau of State Land Supervision has said.

Last year, 303 officials from these areas received Party or administrative punishments for their involvement in illegal land use. And 163 of them also faced judicial investigations, the bureau's figures showed.

Director of the Shanghai Bureau of State Land Supervision Gao Xiangjun said in an interview on Monday that some arable lands were put into illegal use before they were declared to authorities.

In addition to industrial and infrastructure projects, much farmland has been illegally used for agricultural eco-gardens or resorts.

"Real estate developers and investors are just using these names to get the land," chief executive officer of YMT Organic Farm Co Ltd Zhang Huan said.

Zhang's company has 47 hectares of farmland covered with organic vegetables in the northeast corner of Shanghai's Chongming county.

"At land auctions, I met competitors whom I was certain wouldn't do anything but leave the farmland unused until relevant policies turned in their favor," he said.

"They will leave the lands idle and resell them at higher prices. As long as they don't violate land laws, it won't be a problem for them."

A total of 861 hectares were found to have remained unused in Shanghai's Qingpu district alone in 2010. And only 5.14 hectares of arable land in the city's Qingpu and Minhang districts were turned back into farmland last year.

The situation is no better in Zhejiang's capital Hangzhou, where eight cases involving the illegal use of more than 164 hectares were reported in 2010.

"It's illegal to use a single inch of our country's 120 million hectares of arable land for commercial purposes," said Xia Feng, director of Regional Research Center of the China Institute for Reform and Development.

Xia said farmers in many rural areas of China are keen to rent out their lands because they get paid as both landlords and employees.

"But our country must feed its 1.3 billion people through strict restrictions on land use," Xia said.

The prevalence of illegal land use results from real estate-based financing providing a large proportion of local governments' incomes, Xia said.

Illegal land use cases involved 27,866 hectares of land in 2010, 1.1 percent more than in 2009, Li Jianqin, director of the law enforcement and supervision department of the Ministry of Land and Resources, said earlier this year.

About 10,933 hectares of the illegally used land in 2010 were arable, he said.

The country's arable land has decreased from 130 million hectares in 1996 to about 122 million hectares in 2008 because of rapid urbanization and natural disasters, National Bureau of Statistics figures show.

By Shi Yingying, China Daily

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