"Far-Eastern hectare": benefit for Russians or corrupt scheme to "appropriate" lands?
Since June 1, 2016, a new law nicknamed "Far-Eastern hectare" has come into effect in Russia; according to the new law, all Russians can receive for free, on the one-time basis, 1 ha of state or municipal lands in the Far East. However, the implementation of this, at the first glance noble, initiative leaves many questions.
According to the Department of Land and Property of the Primorsky Krai, any Russian citizen can become a proud owner of a Far-Eastern hectare. All he has to do is register at надальнийвосток.рф and pick a lot.
The one-hectare lot is provided for a 5-year term. Upon the term expiry, the citizen – provided that he used the land – can either register the ownership or rent it for 49 years. If the citizen does not submit an application for ownership or rent within 5 years since the agreement signing date, the agreement would become null and void.
However, in the very fist days since the law has come into effect, its implementation mechanism started raising questions. For example, in the first days after the web-site official launch, users could not register and submit an application for the chosen lot.
Anti-corruption Foundation (ACF) experts suspect that the law is a new corruption mechanism created to enable ‘right’ people to ‘appropriate’ juicy pieces of land in the unique Russian Far East.
To understand who are the real beneficiaries of the new law, ACF experts took the easiest way: put themselves in shoes of a Russian citizen willing to use his new legal right to obtain a land lot in the Far East. They logically assumed that a man of sense would try to pick as good piece of land as possible.
Most expensive lands among those offered to the Russians to choose from are located in the Khankaisky district of Primorsky Krai. Benefits are obvious: scenic nature, a protected nature reserve nearby, the Khanka Lake, proximity to Chinese border. All these features provide good opportunities for new settlers to start a business. However, ACF notes, these lots are already occupied by somebody. By whom? Taking that users were unable to submit applications on the web-site in its first day of work – this question remains open.
"In the first day, when the site was non-functional for ordinary mortals, some group of people managed to claim the most expensive and best lands from those offered to the public," – ACF representatives conclude. Based on their assessments, some 70 ha of the coastal area are already occupied.
Even if we assume that some lucky people managed to break through the technical issues and registered their applications, ACF doubts that these 70 random people, not familiar to each other, could "pick, in an orderly manner, accurate rows of adjacent lands" in the best spot of the Far East.
Also ACF experts found out experimentally, while choosing a hectare to apply for, that picking a lot on the map is a "pretty complicated job for a person having no knowledge of various cadastre features".
To minimize possibilities for such abuses and potential corruption allegations, ACF announced its intention to ask the authorities to disclose information about the already-booked lots, including date and time of the booking and the name of the applicant. The anti-corruption crusaders noted that such data would allow to check the new owners for affiliation with state officials – and many things will immediately become clear.
ACF experts also note that they had issues when tried to pick another – rocky and unoccupied – "Far-Eastern hectare". When they tried to delineate a hectare on the shore, the system showed an "error" message. They were only able to pick a lot located further from the shore. An application for this lot has been sent. Results will be come in 30 days.
Residents of the Far East had already expressed serious concerns that a corrupt land acquisition scheme could be implemented in the framework of the new law. They anticipate that lands could be illegally transferred to foreigners or large state corporations.
Back in March, the Yakuts campaigned against giving away lands. "Free hectare is another mousetrap for people!" – with this slogan, the activists rallied a meeting on the central square of Yakutsk.
Simultaneously with the ACF publication, SIR (Earth) Yakut Civic Movement addressed the Deputies: "Today it’s evident and doubtless for everyone that the Federal Law "Far Eastern Hectare" was intended and designed for the benefit of certain persons, but not for the benefit of the public. Despite our protests – we mean not only ourselves, but also you, dear People’s Deputies, – the anti-popular law had been pushed through, and it has already come into effect in the Far-Eastern Federal District," – the petition says.
Civil rights advocates demanded to limit the provision of additional hectares only to those citizens who live permanently in Yakutia and to allow only traditional land uses on these lands – deer and horse breeding.
In April 2016 the State Duma passed a law enabling Russian citizens to receive for free, on the one-time basis, 1 ha of land in the Far East. On May 2, 2016 the document was signed by the Russian President. Far-Eastern hectares will be allocated in stages. During the first stage starting June 1, 2016, lots will be given away in nine pilot municipalities of the Far-Eastern Federal District (in the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic, Kamchatka Krai, Primorsky Krai, Khabarovsk Krai, Amur Region, Magadan Region, Sakhalin Region, Jewish Autonomous Region, and Chukotka Autonomous Region). Since October 1, 2016, residents of the Far-East will be able to get lots in the whole Federal District, and since February 1, 2017, all Russian citizens will get this opportunity. According to the Ministry for Far East Development of the Russian Federation, in the end of May 2016, 9% of the Russians were seriously researching opportunities associated with the ‘Far-Eastern hectare’ and ready to relocate to the Far-East. According to the law, citizens can use their lots for any activities not prohibited by the federal legislation. The list of permitted land uses is not limited: it’s possible to build a farm, launch cottage or hunting business, start a trade business – self-fulfillment freedom is maximal. By the time of this publication, according to the portal надальнийвосток.рф, 1645 Russian citizens submitted applications for lands, 8 lots already given away.