The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Scurry for a square-foot in serene Santiniketan

Santiniketan, Nov. 17: Tagore’s abode of peace is now facing the prospect of matching Calcutta in its hustle with “development” gate-crashing into the idyllic university township.

On November 30, the first joint-sector housing project — the sort Calcutta now has in abundance — will be formally opened here. The first phase of the Bengal Peerless Housing Development Company’s maiden project, Sonar Tari — comprising 152 flats and duplexes — is complete and keys will be handed over to the owners that day.

Bengal Peerless is the first entrant and, definitely, not the last. Sriniketan-Santiniketan Development Authority officials said the town is bracing for a dose of “flat bari culture” — or a very near approximation — with the mass housing market in Calcutta saturated and developers scouring the rural-urban districts for space.

“We have got applications from some of the biggest players in the field,” development authority chairman and CPM MP from Bolpur Somnath Chatterjee told The Telegraph.

“Land prices in some of the more posh areas have rocketed and Santiniketan, on the whole, is now a pricier place than it was five years ago.” Plots that sold for Rs 5,000 a bigha now come at Rs 50,000 a cottah, said Chatterjee.

“Prices have picked up dramatically, especially in upscale Gurupalli and Ratanpalli. A cottah coasts a lakh there,” a development authority official said.

Development Consultants, officials said, is set to start work near Ratankuthi, Multiple Construction Group has submitted a plan for a complex near Prantik station and Bengal Ambuja has written to the authority with a proposal for a housing complex in Santiniketan itself.

Keen on using private help, the authority has invited proposals from others as well to invest in dwelling units, hospitals, educational institutions and commercial complexes on 31 acres that now lie unused, said officials.

The entry of flat baris into the serene Santiniketan has been necessitated, partially, by the inability of some of the older families to maintain their estates. The Ghataks, for instance, are looking forward to selling their 1,500-square-feet single-storey building on a seven-cottah plot for Rs 8 lakh.

“Joint families have started disintegrating with the younger generation living in Calcutta or farther off. It is increasingly difficult for the older generation to shoulder the responsibility,” a senior authority official said.

Bengal Peerless managing director K.S. Bagchi said the joint-venture project was aimed at cashing in on this inability to maintain a “very large second home” among a section of the “cultured” Bengalis.

“What we are offering is a second home not very far from Calcutta but, nevertheless, far from the madding crowd,” Bagchi said.

“Santiniketan can already boast of several celebrity houses — Manna De, Suchitra Mitra, Aparna Sen, Dwijen Bandyopadhyay... Other big names, including Sourav Ganguly, are likely to follow,” said officials.

The development authority’s chief executive officer, Ashok Das, said there is a craze among outsiders to invest here. “A 3-km bypass from Jamboni to Kashimbazar has added to the speed of transport and we are working on a new bus terminus to handle the extra passengers,” he added.

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