Faced with growing discontent over land seizures by the government and real estate developers, China’s State Council, or Cabinet, has announced a major overhaul of land laws that will slow the process of home demolitions and give home-owners here greater compensation for their land.

In recent months, a number of demolition cases have stirred public debate over land rights, an issue regarded as the biggest source of unrest in this country. Most prominently, in November, the death of Tang Fuzhen in Chengdu, Sichuan province, who set herself on fire to protest the demolition of her home by the government, caused widespread outrage.

The new draft law on land acquisitions, which was unveiled on Friday and would be open for public comment until February 12, for the first time mandates that the State will have to ensure that home-owners are given market-price compensation for their land.

The law also makes it illegal for developers and local governments to use violence or other coercive means, such as shutting off water or electricity supply, in acquiring land, which are common practices in land seizures here.

While land acquisitions in China, where the government legally controls all land, are limited, in theory, to projects in the public interest, the often close connections between real estate companies and local government has meant little protection for home-owners in the past against most development projects.

The past year has seen an increase in the number of land disputes. Real estate developers and local governments across China have been engaged in a buying frenzy, sparked by rising property prices and a loosening of monetary policy as part of the government’s stimulus measures.

The draft law was welcomed by land rights activists and academics here, who have been pressing Beijing to arrest the growing influence wielded by land-hungry local governments and developers.

The National People’s Congress, China’s highest legislative body, has given the State Council the authority to enact the laws after public comments are taken into account. It appeared that the NPC had taken on board the recommendations put forth last month by five professors from Beijing’s Peking University, who called for an overhaul of demolition procedures and greater transparency.

“This is definitely a big step forward,” said Wang Xixin, one of the five scholars.

Among those the new law would have benefited is Ma Yalian, a Shanghai resident, who told The Hindu of how she was forced out of her home with below-market compensation following attacks from gangs, often employed by developers and the local government to evict tenants. Ms. Ma has since been campaigning for a reform of eviction and demolition procedures.

Even as the government announced the new draft law, State media reported on Friday that a 68-year-old man in Jiangsu province had died over a land dispute, setting himself on fire to protest the demolition of his home by the government.

“Change cannot come fast enough,” said one land rights lawyer in Beijing, speaking on the condition of anonymity, who welcomed the draft law.

Keywords: Chinareal estate

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