BEIJING - In the urbanization under way now in China, some local government officials have broken the law by taking over farmland from farmers and selling it, a senior government official said on Tuesday.
Chen Xiwen, deputy director of the Central Rural Work Leading Group, said some local governments removed farmers from rural areas, citing urbanization as the reason, without the approval of the Ministry of Land and Resources, and the situation was "severe", the Beijing News reported.
In 2004, the Chinese government first considered the idea of encouraging farmers to change their housing land into farming land and moving to an urban area in order to increase the amount of land available for agriculture.
The land ministry enacted regulations to enable this practice in 2005 and pilot projects were carried out across China in 2006.
However, Chen said all the regulations had emphasized that this practice was only allowed in certain remote regions designated by the ministry, but some local government departments sold the housing land to developers to make money.
The Hebei land bureau recently announced its plan to increase the amount of construction land in rural areas by 33,400 hectares by 2012, although it was given a quota of only 800 hectares by the ministry, the Hebei Daily reported on Wednesday.
Similar practices had also been reported in Shandong, Zhejiang, Hubei and Hunan provinces.
"It's nothing new that some local governments remove farmers from their housing land, paying them low compensation, then sell the land to real estate developers at high prices. Actually it has become an important source of revenue in many places," said Tong Zhihui, a rural development expert at Renmin University of China.
Some farmers cannot find jobs in cities that are far from their farmland. As well, they have lost their best means of support, Tong said.
A Hebei villager, who refused to give his name, said the government paid him less than 600 yuan (S$116) compensation for one square meter when taking over his housing site, but he had to pay 800 yuan (S$154) per sq m if he wanted to by a new home.
Wang Chunguang, a social mobility researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that many farmers could not protect their rights because they were too poor to afford the cost of a lawsuit, and that this explained why so many people appealed to higher authorities for help. -China Daily/ANN