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Soviets Pass Law That Permits Leasing of Land for Private Use : Reforms: The action is part of Gorbachev's plan to let farmers feel like 'masters of the land.'

March 01, 1990|From Reuters

MOSCOW — The Soviet legislature scrapped one of dictator Josef Stalin's most enduring legacies Wednesday, passing a law that allows the private use of land for farming and housing.

But economists said the provisions of the land law are too weak to significantly change rigid Soviet economic practices, while many people appeared reluctant to embrace a scheme that future leaders may revoke.

The Supreme Soviet voted 349 to 7 for the law giving a legal framework to leasing arrangements that President Mikhail S. Gorbachev hopes will boost farm output and cut grain imports.

Collective farms and local authorities will have to lease parcels of land to individuals for agriculture, building of housing, cottage industries or even vacation homes.

Members of the Supreme Soviet said that leased land could also be used for day-care centers or stadiums.

Individuals are entitled to bequeath the land to their children but they may not sell it, give it away or sublet it. The lease can be revoked in case of misuse or severe pollution.

The law, along with legislation on property now being considered, forms the main plank of Gorbachev's drive to allow farmers to feel "masters of the land" and end the alienation felt in many state and collective farms.

Private property was allowed by Soviet state founder V. I. Lenin to combat widespread famine that followed the Bolshevik Revolution.

But the policy was overturned by Stalin. His mass collectivization of 1929-1933, in which 10 million people were shot, jailed or exiled, formed the foundation of the country's current farm system.

The new legislation, effective March 15, runs counter to the constitution that says land, minerals, waters and forests are "the exclusive property of the state."

At Gorbachev's urging, land will be considered "the property of the people living in a given territory" and each citizen will be entitled to a share.

But economist Pavel Bunich told reporters that he doubts the law would have the desired effect: only the poorest land is likely to be offered for leasing, he said.

"This cannot work properly as authorities are not going to want to give up their best areas," he said.

Bunich said all leaseholders will be subject to taxes.

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