Friday, July 30, 2010

It's raining apartments @ Shukhobrishti

Shukhobrishti - a very ambitious project undertaken by the Shapoorji-Pallonji guys. Ultimately this entire mini-township on it's own is supposed to be providing 20,000 apartments or flats. Can you believe 20k apartments ? And if morning shows the day - it seems to be a bright sunny day.

Undertook a trip to take a tour of the LIG Phase 1, which is completed and ready for possession. The possession/handover is to take place on the 2nd of August. They have really done a stupendous job, the complex is very well designed, spic and span, nicely landscaped, well laid out and amazingly well done for an LIG module. Most builders tend to cut corners even in HIG modules, leave alone the LIG ones.

This project stands across the street from other big daddy's like - Keppel Magus's Elita Vista Gardens and DLF Heights. All the 3 projects in this area have been effected by infrastructural pitfall that has plagued Rajarhat since Inception. None of these projects have electricity, or access to drinking water, even sewerage work is not complete. The only exception being @ Shukhobrishti LIG Phase 1, where they have provided for electricity via underground cabling. This is quite amazing and heartening to hear that an alternative has been worked out. However the other 2 projects and the MIG phase of "Shukhobrishti" are still threatened by the absence of basic elements of urban life. During an earlier visit to Elita Garden Vista, their executives had no more information than you or I, they are just hoping the impending elections in 2011 and the change in government will bring along a ray of hope. Let us - Wait. Watch. Pray.

As this is a very sensitive issue - that of farmers vs. builders, CPM vs TMC, etc. No one really wants to talk about this or touch the topic, it has become the proverbial "hot potato". I was able to do some string journalism of my own - in talking to a different cross section of people at the project site here @Shukhobrishti.

During my visit, I managed to speak to a young engineer, a security guard, a LIG customer visiting the site. Following are some voice samplings of the conversations we had, just to give you a taste of the goings on and the "State of the Union".

Conversation with an engineer @ Shukhobrishti site

Conversation with a security guard and a LIG customer @ Shukhobrishti site

Below are some pictures I clicked on July 29, 2010.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Greenfield Heights - The Lone star in the Rajarhat sky

Greenfield Heights is the lone star among a plethora of incomplete projects. It stands tall towards the tail end of the Action Area I. It shot into prominence by the alleged suicide of one P. Rajshekhar earlier in the month of June.

I am in total agreement with the lack of infrastructure and basic utilities that plague the showpiece township there has been a lot of promises that were made and even more that are being made, right now as I write this piece. We just hope some of them will bear some fruits of patience.

Greenfield heights brings back bittersweet memories for me personally, as we came real close to owning an apartment at this project. Back in 2007, it was; if my memory serves me right. I was put in touch with an investor; a woman in her mid-fifties who owned an apartment on the 7th floor of one of the towers. The deal fell through due to some technicalities at the developer's end. I remember even visiting the developer's office for due diligence, however things just went south from that point on. It just seemed the place was being run by a bunch of unprofessional employees. So anyway,let by-gone be by-gone.

Truth be told - Greenfield Heights was one of the first projects in this area to be completed and handed over to it's rightful owners. It is also one of the few places which is barely connected by public transport - there is a bus service right to it's doorstep, even if erratic.

I happen to know an old friend who is actually living at Greenfield Heights. So I took the trip, hoping to click some pictures and possibly meet my friend and get it from the horse's mouth as to what is it like living in what is being dubbed as 'No Man's Land' !

Alas, my friend was at work and we could not meet up with him. But there is always a next time. However I did go around clicking some pictures and here they are for you to see.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Desperate Measures

The article below underlines the desperation of the State government to save the day in Rajarhat. They are truly not leaving any stone unturned and that includes sacrificing themselves at the altar of the ego of the chief minister in waiting Ms. B.

Here have a read - Allergies away, Mamata still cold - Bengal housing minister Gautam Deb has made an offer that Don Corleone may have found difficult to refuse but not Mamata Banerjee....

So now that you have read it, what say ?

Now as if this weren't enough, Ms. B has picked up the mantle for renaming the streets in Salt Lake. Her reason - she was in town recently to celebrate her party's victory in the recently contested municipal elections and mentions that despite coming to Salt Lake several times, she manages to get lost in the maze that it is and thinks naming of streets will help. Thus she spake.

You would really imagine that our elected politicians would be more responsible and actually get some work done for a change, after all the 'hoopla' about change, about being for people - what do we get ? A string of name change ceremonies and tall talk about making Kolkata a London of the east or some such reprehensible comment. Well, "Just put your money where your mouth is" or for heavens sake just keep shut, so that you don't have to deal with "Foot in mouth" situations. Also a million dollar suggestion for our esteemed politicians, it's about time - GROW UP !

Uniworld City - Promises to keep ...

Wonder, what the 'Black' flag is for ?

Uniworld City Kolkata is a massive project containing 50 towers from 20 to 40 floors! The project is divided into 7 different phases Horizons, Gardens, Heights, Air, Downtown, Cascades and Harmony.

This project lies in one of the several 'hot' zones in Rajarhat. Uniworld City along with Rosedale NRI forms the picture perfect skyline in the Action Area III. Both these projects have been hit below the belt by the constant trouble that has engulfed New Town, and the protests by the land owners has been spreading like a wild fire.

This report is from a recent visit (9th July 2010) to the project. On the brighter side of things there does seem to be some rejuvenated activity in this construction zone. Even though we were denied entry inside the project but we were able to speak to one of the security guards (see pic. below) at the site who told us that about 10 families have already moved in and have been living. Encouraging to say the least !

Now this is still a heavy construction zone, with a lot still to be desired from approach roads. There are no stores in this area, and the I can imagine the residents having to go to Action Area I, as the nearest stop for any and all of their daily needs. Not to mention the scare of living in this construction zone, with not too many families for company.

As you can see in the above picture, the road is still unfinished and heavy construction vehicles are still pounding the good earth !

Unfortunately, we could not get through to any of the residents who are living here already. We will make every effort to get a look in and have a word with the families who have moved in here and their experience of living in an area that looks like a war zone.

Till then, here are some more pictures in a slideshow ....

Friday, July 2, 2010

New Town Blues and Hues

~ New Town Skyline (Action Area III) ~

Where in the heck is 'New Town' anyway ?

This new industrial and residential hub is being developed on the north-eastern fringes on Calcutta, the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal. It consists of the two erstwhile villages Rajarhat and Gopalpur, which is now a city and municipality named 'Rajarhat Gopalpur'. The area mainly consisted of huge acres of cultivable lands and water bodies. The process of investing for residential and industrial facilities and infrastructural development of the area has mainly started under the leadership of present Chief Minister of West Bengal Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in the late 1990s.

The New Town, Kolkata is planned on some Mouzas of Rajarhat Block in North 24-Parganas and those of Bhangar-I & Bhangar-II Blocks in South 24-Parganas. The central area of New Town is 10 km. from Kolkata's Central Business District and about a kilometre from the International Airport. The New Town is being planned as a major hub for business, trade, industries, IT, institutions and culture. Though it is planned as a self-contained nodal growth centre, the New Town will be integrated fully with the future spatial/ functional structure of the metropolis.

The vast expanse of open lands has been separated into Action Areas (I, II and III). Action Areas are to New Town, what Sectors are to Salt Lake; just several times bigger.

The comparison to the Coen brothers tale of blood and gore is quite apt. Just like in the movie, Rajarhat has become the 'Wild Wild East' where lawlessness rules; illegal practices are rife; and it has become a hot bed of State politics. It has been a victim of a political tug-of-war , with investors and end-users being mere pawns in this game. There is no viable solution in sight.

I hope to raise this issue in a forum, where all affected buyers and investors can collate thoughts; check on developments and the state of the union, at the same time solutions to a stalemate that seems to have been reached

And who is WBHIDCO again ?

West Bengal Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd. was set up as a Government Company on 26th April, 1999. Though this Corporation has a state-wide mandate, its immediate focus area is the development of a planned town near the City of Kolkata towards its north eastern fringe. This Corporation has been given wide powers to acquire and sell land, for different purposes, develop the entire range of infrastructure services, construct housing & commercial premises and also to maintain the New Town till such time a regular body is established for the delivery of such services.

WBHIDCO has been up against a stiff resistance from landowners who have been politically motivated by a certain political party whose sole job, it seems is to fireadd fuel to the and stonewall any development in the State. Such is the sorry state of affairs that even WBHIDCO has thrown in the towel, and is simply in a "wait-and-watch" mode.

So what ails New Town ?

It is hard to stay apolitical in times such as these. Despite the best efforts and intents of WBHIDCO and the State government, and even the developers the opposition has remained stiff against infrastructural work (laying drainage and sewerage lines, erection of electrical towers).

The story of the opposition party backing the local resistance goes some what like this - "The poor farmers have been duped by the State government and HIDCO into selling their lands at throw away prices. However in turn the State government aspires to earn big bucks by leasing out the land to the developers for building high rises."

It is however not true that all farmers or land owners are disgruntled with selling their land, a visit to the Rajarhat will tell you that. There are land owners, who have been far sighted to see the economic boom that Rajarhat can turn out to be, given the high levels of investment in the township. The classic divide between agrarian and industrialized economy still fuels the fire. I do agree that the land-owners should not be given a raw deal, however in a free economy you have to let the market correct itself. So when the government bought land, it too was taking a risk by biting into a pie as big as Rajarhat. They bought land on the cheap as per the rates back then. Now since then the prices have gone up, the place holds a promise, the corporates are showing interest and they have deep pockets. Seeing all this has caused a local mutiny politically led by the opposition to prick the development balloon floated by the State government. This is not really because they care for the fate of the land owners, simply because it gives them a political agenda !

Now figure this out - the State government bought/acquired land directly from farmers and other landowners at mutually agreeable prices, back in the days and leased the land out to developers and commercial interests in aspiration to build a planned city, just outside the chaotic confines of what is come to be known as Kolkata.

The State government even mandates in joint-venture with building developers that they have to offer affordable housing to the low and middle income class people. So in most all the projects in the New Town area - a developer is required to offer LIG (Low Income Group), Middle Income Group (MIG) and High Income Group(HIG) variety of accommodation. HIDCO and the State government even mandates strict income requirements for LIG and MIG sectors, so as to prevent surrogate and unscrupulous investors. LIG and MIG accommodations are grossly subsidizes, where as the developers have been given a free run in the HIG sector - to pocket any amount of profit the developers desire. Correct me if I am wrong - this to me is a very socialistic gesture by the government which needs to be lauded.

Now I am not going to allude that there has been no wrong-doing, or there are no land sharks, and/or no unscrupulous entities in an area what has seen the biggest spurt in development activities in eastern India. Like they say , "No good deed goes unpunished" - there might have been illegal practices or even forcible acquisition of land in some cases. Now then, you are not going to tell me that the entire city of New Town has been built on skeletons and all land has been acquired forcibly.

It is a law order situation, to resolve matters of property dispute, land-sharks and some times even family disputes owing to land transactions. However the customers and investors in the New Town dream feel like being cheated too - after investing lakhs of rupees and paying hefty mortgage EMI's to banks and financial situations; what they get is an uncertain and bleak future of what was promised to be the gateway to modern living in the east !

The State government being the task master to the law and order and the administration machinery in the state also deserves a lot of flak in this regard - they should have handled the situation in a more pragmatic way, especially when the future aspirations of millions of present and future flat owners is at stake !

An excerpt from the press release in October of 2009 reads as follows :

"The West Bengal government has stopped giving possession of plots in Rajarhat on the eastern fringes of Kolkata because it is unable to acquire land to build civic infrastructure such as roads and underground sewers. Due to unavoidable circumstances, "infrastructure development work has been retarded to a considerable extent", West Bengal Housing and Infrastructure Development Corp. Ltd (Hidco) said in a recent notice to people to whom plots have been allotted.

Click here for the complete report.

So how will this blog help ?

Besides raising awareness, we will present CIP (Case in Points) - every week starting this week in July 2010. We will present for you one of the projects, complete with most recent construction pictures, approach roads, surrounding development, status updates, video posts and more. We will visit the offices of the developers and HIDCO talk to their representatives and get you the feedback and their trend of thought. We will also to try to talk to the locals and get their take on it. We will make an effort to collaborate with the media on this, so that they can carry this as their lead story and work with us on the agenda of bringing peace and development to New Town, so that the dreams and aspirations of thousands of families can come to fruition. Now this will take a lot of hard work and blogging. Let's get started.

Finally, in the words of John Lennon - "You may say I am a dreamer, but I'm not the only one ...". Enough said, now enjoy the song !

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