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Warning Reiterated

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There can be no doubt that Dehradun needs to go vertical if it wishes to provide the necessary housing for those who wish to live in the valley. Unfortunately, for too long, the policy makers have adopted a ‘head-in-the-sand’ approach to the issue. Soon after the state’s formation, the first misstep was in formulating the policy on the sale of land. The principle at the heart of this policy was that land was not a ‘commodity’ to be bought or sold. This was very typical romanticisation of the ‘spirit’ of the state’s formation – the desire being to ‘preserve’ agriculture land for the ‘local’ people. All that it did was establish any number of petty checks and controls, while placing enormous pressure on existing urban land. In short, it has succeeded only in boosting speculative property dealings, and hiked prices to unjustifiable levels.

A real estate bubble has developed in the area, with all kinds of ‘heights’ (not the age of ‘vihars’, anymore) coming up. The prices of flats in these developments are not justified by the rents they command – as has become the case in Gurgaon, Greater Noida, etc. Clearly, there is a lot of black money involved, leavened with the requirements of the salaried class that would rather pay EMIs than income tax. Since the real estate development in the state, particularly the valley, is speculative in nature, it is attracting investment from a large number of persons from outside, who find the rates here very attractive as compared to the supercharged ones in the NCR.

The state’s land policy has obviously succeeded in achieving the exact opposite of what was intended. The locals are being priced out of the market, though quite a number of them might be making money from the property dealing.

Another big reason for this is the failure of the state to promote cheap housing. There have been very successful – from the owners’ point of view – housing projects in the past promoted by MDDA and Avas Vikas, but since the state’s formation, governments have paid little attention.

With increased migration from the hills, there is need for a forward looking policy on housing that addresses all these issues. An important element of this would also be clear guidelines on how the gated multi-storeyed housing projects are to function – from strict implementation of earthquake proof construction to how these are to be managed afterwards. It has been seen that several promoters with fly-by-night tendencies extract the maximum mileage from the land they acquire. MDDA approved plans are tweaked after the projects are initiated to increase profits even as the amenities promised to residents gradually disappear. Once the flats are sold, the residents are left to their own devices.

As such, it should be made mandatory that post-handover arrangements be made for maintenance and running of these societies. One has only to go around Doon and examine the older developments to see the poor condition they are in.

Before any such development takes place, the regulatory authorities must ensure there is availability of proper access, water and power supply, fully functional sewage system and garbage disposal, and an operational management committee run by the residents. Many such projects are actually coming up in geologically unsafe areas, which could prove a future hazard, when the developers will be long gone.

As housing is largely privately promoted, government should make it mandatory for every large developer to also promote a low income parallel project on land provided by the government that would be on no profit, no loss basis. This would ensure that the funds pouring in from outside also create housing for the weaker sections. In fact, these could even function as ‘service’ colonies for the more upmarket developments.

If measures are not taken today, the ground is being set for a major real estate bubble in the state.