Top legislature approved a draft revision, on Saturday, to the country's Law on Water and Soil Conservation to better protect environment.
The revised law, which goes into effect on March 1, 2011, stipulates that individuals and companies who work uncultivated land will be held responsible for the loss of soil and water.
After massive rock and mud slides in Yunnan and Gansu provinces this summer, Chen Lei, Minister of Water Resources, said that water and soil losses remains the top environmental problem for China.
Zhou Ying, Vice Minister of Water Resources, warned that China's loss of soil and water, reportedly among the worst in the world, has "posed severe threats to the ecology, food safety and flood control".
Penalties for the loss of soil and water must be included in land-use contracts reached with local governments, according to the law, which provides for more severe punishments to violators.
If people fail to work on controlling water and soil losses within a given time, they should pay the full expense of the government's water and soil conservation work on the project, it said.
The revised law requires water authorities to confiscate their illegal income if individuals or companies borrow soil, dig sand or collect stones in dangerous areas known for land collapsing or landslides. A fine of more than 1,000 yuan, but less than 10,000 yuan, will be imposed upon an individual and a 20,000 to 200,000 yuan to companies.
The law also requires compensation fees for water and soil control if the projects are carried out in areas that are more likely to see water loss and soil erosion, including mountain areas and sandy regions.
The old law, adopted in 1991, had lagged behind the quickening economic and social development and environmental requirements, said Zhou Ying in a report issued during the top legislature's first reading on the draft amendment.
Zhou cited problems in soil and water preservation, including inadequate coordination and monitoring, a lack of measures to prevent and control water and soil loss, and increased production and construction activities.
The new law, with a new chapter on planning, specifies that water administration departments at or above county levels should draw up plans for land and water conservation and see to their implementation.
"The location of a production or construction project should avoid key areas for land and water conservation. If a project has to be conducted in these areas, construction techniques should be improved in order to reduce surface disturbances and damage to vegetation," notes the new regulations.
According to the revised law, forests and grasslands should not be harmed in areas that suffer from severe land and water losses, and planting crops is banned on slopes having a 25-degree gradient.
The law also requires local authorities to seek public and expert opinions before drawing up soil and water conservation plans.
Prof. Sun Honglie, an academic at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), warned that about 37.2 percent of Chinese land is suffering from soil erosion, with the phenomenon particularly severe in vast western regions.
China loses 666 square-kilometers of farmland due to soil and water losses annually. At this current rate, 9,300 square-kilometers of farmland in northeast China, about the size of Yellowstone National Park in the United States, will have lost all of its black earth topsoil within 50 years, according to Sun, who was invited by the top legislature to lecture on natural resources.
Besides China's water authorities, other government agencies including departments of forestry, agriculture, land and resources, are also responsible to work with the water departments on the country's water and soil conservation work, the revised law says.
The draft revision was approved at the closing ceremony of the 18th session of the 11th NPC Standing Committee.