The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ghettos pricey, swanky are cheap

Ahmedabad, March 16: In any other city, the owner of a property valued at Rs 1,900 a square feet a decade ago would salivate at the price it would fetch now. Not in Ahmedabad — ask Desh Khurana.

“This has become a cursed land,” says Khurana, director, Kumbhalgarh Fort resort. Exasperation, worry alternately clouds his face.

“I have been trying to sell my property, which just happens to be in the heart of Ahmedabad, at Rs 900 per square feet but nobody is picking it up.”

But there is more to it than Khurana’s “prime-property” woes.

An insidious real estate phenomenon has gripped Ahmedabad. While real estate prices in swank, glittering new Ahmedabad — home mostly to wealthy Hindus — have nosedived, the cost of new houses in the congested, often spooky bylanes of old Ahmedabad is hitting the roof.

Grabbing a metaphor all too familiar in Gujarat, Khurana says, “Sirf log nahi mare, business bhi mar gaya.”

Real estate prices have crashed to unimaginable depths in most of Ahmedabad, yet nobody is buying.

“Ideally, prices should have multiplied three times over if you take the decade-old index. But that did not happen here,” said Vijay Shah, president of Federation of Real Estate Developers’ Association of Gujarat.

Shah added that while prices in residential areas have been hit the hardest — “it’s so risky just being here” — commercial plots have not fared any better.

“The commercial property you bought for Rs 35,000 per square yard in 1996 is available for Rs 21,000 now. That’s a whopping Rs 14,000 decrease,” he said.

Shah, the builder of Patang, Ahmedabad’s famous revolving restaurant, has another shocking piece of data. He said there were close to 50,000 empty flats in the city. “The earthquake was bad enough, the riots that followed a year later made things worse than ever.”

There are some, though, who put the number of these ghost flats at an astounding 1.50 lakh.

At the office of Bakeri Builders, one of Gujarat’s biggest, Meghnaben shies away from making a political commentary on the crashing real estate prices. She simply says some plots were available in prime locations for as low as Rs 700 per square feet.

“That’s because people are desperate,” she says.

Inversely, while real estate prices on the Hindu side of Ahmedabad have plunged, the need to ghettoise after the riots has led to flats inside the walled city costing a fortune.

“It is defence mechanism,” says Nayoom Khan, a senior executive at the mobile phone service provider Idea Cellular. “It’s funny, isn’t it, why people would make a beeline for these dirty congested places,” he said.

He himself had to leave his house in Hindu-dominated Vastrapur and shift to the walled city, flanked on all sides by Muslim houses. “Kya kare, majboori hai,” he says.

While Khurana is crying over his rotting property, the one who sold a ramshackle flat to Nayoom made a neat pot on a swift deal.

Nayoom had to buy a flat valued at less than Rs 5 lakh for thrice the amount. He says there was a more dangerous side to the panic migration of Muslims to the walled city.

“Now the underworld has come into the picture and is milking the cash cow.” Muslims, who have moved into minority community-dominated areas, said Hindus having flats there are being threatened, sometimes forced to vacate their houses.

The houses, vacated by scared Hindus, are then sold at prices that are often as high as five times the original cost.

As some of Nayoom’s Muslim friends join the conversation, raising the heat over the topic, the Idea man tries to lighten the environment. “Do you watch AXN'” he asks.

“This is the Fear Factor, live.”

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