'Up to 30 million could move to Far East to receive enticing land gift': but will they?
The bill gives an opportunity to every Russian citizen to obtain one hectare of land in the Far East for free use for the first five years and then acquire ownership of their land allotments at no cost if the plot has been used for activities not banned by Russian laws Picture: Natalia Korneva
The land handout is a radical scheme from the Russian government to reverse a potentially catastrophic population decline on the Pacific rim in the extreme east of the country.
People will be able to register and receive plots on the web. The offer includes land that can be farmed, and forested territory, with the potential to sell timber, or simply set up home and a smallholding.
Those wanting to becoming landowners in the Far East should use their plot for five years after which it can become theirs for free. Later, they could sell it.
About 30 million Russians - especially the young - are ready to go east and take up the offer, according to the VTSIOM public opinion research centre as a public discussion on the plan kicked off. Such a shift would be on a scale of historical proportions, transforming the region.
'Free land grants is a powerful potential for developing our Eastern territories and an opportunity to radically - almost six fold - increase the far eastern population from 6.4 million to 36 million people,' said Alexander Galushka, minister responsible for development of these regions.
Some 28% said they wanted to organise individual self-reliance households on their land; 19% said they would like to become farmers while 16% said that the land grants was an opportunity for them to change their place of residence, said the press service of the Ministry for Far Eastern Development.
Russian settlers on the Far East in the beginning of the 20th century. Picture: Okhota i Rybalka, RussianKoreanTV
The bill gives an opportunity to every Russian citizen to obtain one hectare of land in the Far East for free use for the first five years and then acquire ownership of their land allotments at no cost if the plot has been used for activities not banned by Russian laws, reported TASS.
The land will be confiscated in case of non-use. Foreigners will have no right to get the free land.
'If the requested plot of land is part of the designated forest land, this cannot be a cause for refusal to provide the plot of land in accordance with the provisions of this law,' states an official government document on the land handout.
The exception are lands designated 'protected forests'. The scheme may appeal to patriotic Russians seeking to rebuild their own lives and improve their country at the same time.
Yet there are sceptics who recall a giveaway of share vouchers during the privatisation of old Soviet industries in the 1990s. The shares quickly found their way into the hands of a few spectacularly rich tycoons.
Some fear that oligarchs will do the same here, and then deftly switch the land into the hands of the Chinese who are keen to hold agricultural property long term, to supply their country's food needs.
There are already murmurs of dissent about deals in several regions to put land into Chinese hands.
As one sceptical blogger forecast gloomily: 'It is yet another fraud by our bureaucrats. These pieces of land will be given to unknown people and then the land will be sold (sorry, given for rent for 100 years) to Chinese people.'
The plots of land will be no closer than 20 kilometres to settlements with 300,000 or more residents; and no closer than 10 kilometres to towns with 50,000 to 300,000 residents. Pictures: Arsenyev.net, The Siberian Times
Another warned: 'It is just like that vouchers story in 1990s, at the end of which a couple of oligarchs will get hold of it and we'll see 2-3 more agricultural oligarchs, who will hire Chinese people to work there.'
Natural Russian pessimism?
Time will tell, assuming the plan is approved, but potential incomers will need to be doggedly determined as were settlers to Siberia and the Far East during periods in the past.
The plots of land will be no closer than 20 kilometres to settlements with 300,000 or more residents; and no closer than 10 kilometres to towns with 50,000 to 300,000 residents.
Another blogger warned potential land grabbers to beware of 'high Far East prices, a different climate, thousands of mosquitos and other insects you have never seen before'.
If the law secures final approval in Moscow, the programme will start working on 1 January 2016 and run for 19 years.
The Tyumen complex will include mineral spring baths and a hotel, with a target of one million visitors a year.