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Gov't Urged to Get Tough on Land Grab

CPPCC members on Saturday urged tighter land acquisition controls to secure arable land supply and cool the nation's sizzling property market.

"Land management legislation stipulates that government can expropriate collectively owned land when it's 'in the public interest', but what that means is open to interpretation," CPPCC member Liang Jiyang said on Saturday's session of the 11th National Committee of the CPPCC.

Liang is a researcher with the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"The term should be clearly defined to curb exploitation and full compensation should be paid to land owners," he said, adding that land expropriation generates huge profits for government.

"Land is often worth much more than the compensation paid by government," he said. "Some local governments have sought to profit from land acquisition.

"Land expropriation by the government has left farmers without security when it comes to land ownership."

Fellow CPPCC member Chen Xiwen, vice director of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party's rural affairs office, agreed.

Chen said much of Beijing's construction land is located in rural areas.

"It would be shocking to see how much of that land was illegally acquired," Chen was quoted as saying by the Beijing News on Friday.

But with no clear definition of what's "in the public interest", land acquisition abuses go unchecked.

"How can hotel and supermarket projects be deemed 'in the public interest'?" Chen said.

Liang also warned that land acquisitions have led to a sharp drop in the amount of arable land available.

At present, the country has 121.8 million hectares, or 0.09 hectares per person, of arable land, less than 40 percent of the average level worldwide, according to the latest Ministry of Land and Resources survey last year.

That's a decrease of 8.3 million and 0.11 hectares from 1996.

China's population could reach a peak of 1.6 billion, which would need arable land of 120 million hectares to ensure food supplies, Liang said.

Nearly 50 million farmers have been displaced, leading to growing unrest in some villages where large tracts of land have been expropriated, he said.

Government control of large areas of land is also fueling the nation's rising property prices.

Despite policy measures to cool the property market, prices in major cities in January jumped 11.3 percent over the same month last year, an earlier report said.

Liang called for the government land grab to be curbed and compulsory land acquisitions minimized.

Improving compensation payouts to land owners will also help to protect the rights and interests of farmers and to restrain local government, he said.

The nation's property law came into effect last October.

It emphasizes protection of arable land and restricts agricultural land being used for construction projects.

(China Daily March 10, 2008)

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