The changing face of Punjab
Harjap Singh Aujla is pleasantly surprised with the progress that the state has made

Punjabis by nature are fun-loving folks. They like to eat well, wear well and live well. Fresh with Partition pangs, some of the more adventurous Punjabis left the shores of India in ’50s to search greener pastures in several parts of the World, including the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. They toiled hard in the agricultural fields, factories, academics and professional offices of their adopted countries.

They were the first to adopt the concept of farmhouses on Punjab’s countryside as holiday vista. Then came the turbulent ’80s and the start of the decade and a half long period of insurgency. Spacious farmhouses became the hiding places for the militants. Some were occupied by the police while the others were inhabited by the migrants from UP and Bihar.

The insurgency rendered village life virtually impossible. The well-to-do farmers decided to move to the cities. This created tremendous pressure on the cities. Most of the cities, to start with, were unplanned. Urban planning was restricted only to Chandigarh, its satellite township, Mohali, and a few urban estates built in the handful of cities. The rest was unplanned and haphazard. That is why cities like Amritsar and Ludhiana are suffering from urban blight. In most of the unplanned colonies, civic amenities are woefully inadequate.

Post-militancy period between 1996 and 2006 can be termed as the decade of renaissance in Punjab. The NRI-rich Grand Trunk region of Punjab had a tremendous latent potential for planned urban development, but for a long time it did not occur to India’s metropolitan area based builders and the authorities in Punjab to assess the magnitude of this potential.

Ludhiana, as an exception, had some housing projects that started nearly a decade ago, but no big land developer based in Mumbai or Delhi noticed that the other cities in Punjab also could afford big city style planned housing. Thus, most of the Punjab remained untouched by the planned housing explosion. Real urban housing boom in most of Punjab started only four years ago. Some of the big builders of the National Capital Region made a reluctant and speculative entry into Punjab. They tasted instant success and by word of mouth, the news spread like a wildfire and other builders also made a beeline to Punjab.

The state government was receptive and the tax laws for dwellings were the most favourable in India. All this heralded the birth of planned small enclave multi-storeyed construction.

Mohali became the flag-bearer of the present day building boom in Punjab. Quark company of the USA was allotted a specific chunk of land to develop. This move was a departure from the Chandigarh style urban pattern adopted by the Punjab Urban Development Authority. Soon other developers jumped into the fray and the state government also shed its inertia. Thus Mohali became the first township in Punjab to deviate from Le Corbusier’s standard concept of urban planning. Some smaller private developers, of course with the blessings of the authorities, started building their own enclaves in places like Zirakpur, Kharar, Banur and Rajpura. The same concept has been extended to Mohali in a big way. Now Mumbai- style urban development is spreading into all cities of Punjab.

Amritsar’s International Airport, spurred by the Golden Temple-centric pilgrimage and NRI-driven tourism, has seen an unprecedented growth during the last three years. From merely a dozen international flights a week, it has grown to handle approximately eighty international flights a week. This factor alone has done tremendous good to Amritsar’s moribund economy. Amritsar is now graduating into a city of 5-star hotels.

Several big land developers are building all kinds of residential and commercial buildings. This appears to be just the beginning of the boom, a lot more seems yet to come.

Four laning of Amritsar-Jalandhar Highway, Amritsar-Pathankot Highway and Amritsar-Wagha Highway are also helpful, because most of the new planned urban enclaves are coming up on these very roads. The additional limited access elevated highway being built above the most congested part of the Grand Trunk Road, offering a hassle free connection the Golden Temple, is going to further enhance the status of this city.

Now other cities in Punjab, with less than a million population, are also experiencing a housing boom. Jalandhar and Kapurthala constitute the heart of NRI belt. The highway linking Jalandhar with Kapurthala has three prestigious institutions located on it in close proximity to each other. The Punjab Technical University, the Swaran Singh National Institute of Renewable Energy and the Pushpa Gujral Science City are all closely clustered along this road. This pristine area is a prime location for high-end urban development. The Jalandhar Phagwara section of the Grand Trunk Road is also developing very fast.

According to an estimate during the coming three years or so nearly Rs 130 lakh crores is going to be invested by big builders in Punjab and Haryana. The increased land prices are a blessing in disguise as the farmers will get more for their prime land. — The writer is an NRI who was on a short visit to India



Old no more Gold

Jupinderjit Singh says that ancient Ludhiana property with a hot past faces a cold present. The future is dismal as the younger face of the city is erasing the identity of the older one

When Mukhtiar Singh purchased a house worth Rs 6 lakh in ’70s at Karimpura, Ludhiana, he thought it to be a great bargain. The house was located in the less than three-feet wide street, which was one of the several intricate lanes of the narrow bazaars and residential area, dotted with wall-to-wall constructions.

He had thought he would construct two more stories on the present ground floor, where his children would live with their families. He did construct two more floors. The rooms were filled with modern facilities. The floors were marbled and the ceiling was made designer. An air-conditioner was also installed. Kitchen, living rooms, drawing room - all boasted of the latest design.

Today, his grown-up children have no intention to live in Karimpura. Neither does Mukhtiar Singh for, the factors of quality living have changed. Earlier, Karimpura, like several other colonies, was a hot spot for living. The market was close by, the house secure, railway station was not far off and neither was the bus stand. Almost every facility was within a walking distance.

Moreover, the colony was one of the several that had come up during the last two centuries when protection and security against invasions were the main focus. The terrorist threat perception kept the area favourite till the ’80s.

Today, spacious homes, especially those that open on wide streets, are in vogue. Homes, where there is ample scope to develop a lawn, a kitchen garden and a provision to park a four-wheeler, are sought after. Thickly constructed colonies like Karimpura, where merely a two-wheeler can pass comfortably, are finding just a few takers.

All this has had a drastic effect on the property value. Mukhtiar Singh is desperate to sell his house. His two sons have moved to Sarabha Nagar and BRS Nagar, having modern style of living. More than 50 per cent of colony residents have already moved out. They avoid being labelled old city denizens.

This old city, situated on the east side of the GT road, has become the wrong end of the conurbation. Ludhiana now presents two kinds of architectural styles. While one appears to be a city of medieval times, another projects a modern face.

Property rates define the boundaries best, as they say.

Areas like Chaura Bazar, Karimpura, CMC road, Fieldgunj, Saban Bazaar, Purana Bazaar, Madhopuri, Ghas Mandi, and adjoining areas, that once carried the history of the city in their cradle, are being shunned like typewriters in this computer age.

Rakesh Sharma of Katchi Gali bought two plots, for Rs 10 lakh each, in the ’80s. One was in the Katchi Gali at Madhopuri while the second in Rajguru Nagar.

He and his family preferred to live at Madhopuri as Rajguru Nagar was too far off and houses were located isolated in the fields. He, like other residents, used to scoff at Rajguru Nagar. “Who would come to Chaurra Bazar - the epicentre of shopping - all the way from Rajguru Nagar, situated 10 km away,” he used to wonder.

Today, the entire family has moved to Rajguru Nagar, the better end of the new city. He is trying hard to sell the property in the old city. And, so far, success has eluded him.

Another resident Rakesh Khanna says the situation is so bad now that in some areas, the reserve/government price of the land actually acts as a saviour, “ In the new city, there is a huge difference in the government and the market price. People register deals at the government price, which is lower and escape paying stamp duty. In older city, the government price is more than the market price. People cannot sell for less than that as they would have to pay the stamp duty on the set rates only.”

Parminder Singh, an advocate in Chaura Bazar, says he had to move out as there was no place to park the car. “ I had made an arrangement to park my car on the premises of a hotel. We all would walk down to board the vehicle. Visitors were always inconvenienced,” he says.

Despite stiff resistance from his mother, who spent 70 years of her life in the colony, he moved out. “It is only now that my mother enjoys sunlight. Old constructed colonies had some areas where streets were dark and dank even in the noon. Choc-a-bloc construction and ever increasing floors made it impossible for the sunlight to peep through. My mother had to climb up all the way to the rooftop to enjoy sun’s warmth. It was not possible in her age,” he says, justifying the move.

Many famous markets, too, are being tagged as the old city ones. Earlier, these markets were the most frequently visited. Their design seemed the best. Markets were theme based. There was one avenue of utensil sellers and another full of jewellers. There were woollens in one street and karyana merchants and soap makers on the next.

Rajesh Singla recalls that people flocked the pathways for a wider variety, all on one street. But now is the age of malls and plazas. People want different things at one place. Retailers sell everything under one roof.

This has reduced the property rates. Many well known jewellers have moved out to the new city. Even the famous Khushi Ram Halwaii has moved closer to Ansal Plaza.



Hajj House in Valley

Ehsan Fazili reports that the state-of-the-art building, the first of its kind in North India, will cater to the needs of pilgrims

When Haj pilgrims from Jammu and Kashmir begin their holy trip at the end of this year, they will converge at one point and complete all customs and boarding formalities before moving to the airport, thanks to the upcoming Hajj House, presently under construction on Srinagar outskirts.

Work on this Rs 10.50 crore state-of-the-art project at Bemina bypass started last year to manage the smooth departure and arrival of about 6,000 to 10,000 Haj pilgrims annually.

The complex, spread over 50 kanals, will be unique and first of its kind in North India. A Hajj House is already functioning in Mumbai, and work on a similar complex has taken off in Bangalore.

Srinagar complex will be better than Bangalore in many ways for the residential and other facilities are fully covered in view of Kashmir’s weather conditions, opine the officials of Jammu and Kashmir Projects Construction Corporation (J&KPCC), the agency responsible for the construction.

The complex is yet another addition of firsts in the infrastructure of Kashmir, and is a step ahead after direct Haj flights from Srinagar, which started during 2000-01 pilgrimage. “This will help in providing adequate facilities of emigration, customs and flight details for the pilgrims coming from all three regions of the state, says Sheikh Nazir Ahmad, State Hajj Officer. The pilgrims were, otherwise, accommodated in private hotels. After the construction of this complex, it would be more convenient to have all facilities under one roof.

In case of flight delays, which get rampant during winter months, the pilgrims will not have to move to the airport, the officials say. Its location, less than 7 km from the airport, is convenient for all those coming from different districts of Kashmir valley and those from Jammu and Ladakh regions.

Hajj House will have three components — the reception house, administrative block and the residential block, explains deputy general manager of the J&K PCC, Parvez Naqash. Spread over 1,500 sq. ft area, the reception house will be a single-storey block where the pilgrims and members of family accompanying them would report for getting the requisite information.

Close to it is the two-storeyed administrative block, spread over 17,000 sq.ft, where the formalities related to foreign exchange, emigration, customs and boarding would be provided. It is being made in a semi-curvature pattern with glass panelling. It is here that the pilgrims will finally be starting their pilgrimage with checking for aircraft. The administrative block is being constructed as an RCC-framed structure with pile foundation and due care for seismic resistance, says Naqash.

At the back of these blocks lies the three-storeyed residential block spread over a plinth area of 10,000 sq. ft., sufficient to accommodate at least 400 pilgrims at a time. This will be having separate rooms as well as dormitory, and cater to all facilities of boarding and lodging.

This residential block will also serve community purposes during off-season. This will help in generating revenue for the maintenance of the complex, the officials say.

Due care is also being taken for beautification of the complex, that will have concrete fencing on all sides with separate entrance and exits on the bypass road. Of the 50 kanals of land, 30 kanals has been marked as open green space.



TAX tips
Depreciation allowance justified on power of attorney
By S.C. Vasudeva

Q. I am in the business of selling school uniforms. I had purchased the shop, in which the business is carried out, on power of attorney basis. I have been advised that I am not entitled to deduction of depreciation on the shop for which I had paid a sizeable amount. Kindly advise me the correct legal position.

— Dheeraj Kumar, Charkhi Dadri

A. In order to be entitled to depreciation allowance, the assessee has to show that he is owner of the asset on which depreciation has been claimed. It is not necessary that the assessee should be registered owner of the asset. Exclusive possession rights, that is to exclude others from enjoyment of the assets, full control over the assets, right to retain possession and defend the same are some of the characteristics of the ownership which would entitle a person to claim the benefit of depreciation allowance under Section 32 of the Act, if the asset is used for the purposes of the business. If these conditions are satisfied in your case, you would be entitled to claim the depreciation. A reference in this case can be made of Supreme Court decision in the case of Mysore Minerals Ltd. vs. CIT (1999) (106 Taxman 166).

Firm’s property

Q. We are a partnership firm. The firm owns immovable property, which had been contributed as a capital contribution by one of the partners. However, the property is not registered in the name of the firm. Is the firm entitled to depreciation allowance on such immovable property, which is being used for the purposes of the business?

— Ram Kumar, Hisar

A. Section 14 of the Partnership Act, 1932, provides that all property and rights which the partners have brought in common stock as their contribution to the common business are treated as a part of the partnership property. Even if such property is not registered in the name of the firm in accordance with the provisions of Transfer of Property Act, 1882, the firm is the owner of the property if the intentions are to use the same as a partnership property. In this case a reference can be made to a decision of Rajasthan High Court in the case of CIT vs Amber Corporation (207 ITR 435).

Capital gain

Q. I sold a house in April 2004 for a sum of Rs 30 lakh, on which I earned a capital gain of Rs 10 lakh. The property was residential and I had the intention of buying another house within the specified period. I was advised that I should deposit the amount of capital gain in separate account under the notified scheme so as to utilise the said amount for the acquisition/construction of the house. I deposited the capital gain in a separate account for acquiring or constructing another residential house. However, despite my best efforts I have not been able to buy or construct a residential house within the specified period on account of a rapid increase in real estate prices.

What would be the position of the amount, which was deposited, in a separate account? Will it be brought to tax, if so in what manner?

— Satyapal Sharma, Ludhiana

A. The facts given in the query indicate that you had earned a long-term capital gain on the sale of residential house. The requirement of Section 54 of the IT Act, 1961 (The Act), is to deposit the amount of capital gain in a separate account under the notified scheme if the same is not appropriated by the assessee towards the purchase or construction of new residential house before the due date of filing the income tax return. The amount of capital gain which has not been utilised wholly or partly for the purchase or construction of the residential house within the specified period will be charged under Section 45 of the Act as the income of the previous year as a long term capital gain in which the period of three years from the date of transfer of the original residential house expires. The amount deposited in the notified account can be withdrawn thereafter in accordance with the scheme formulated by the government in this regard.

Premises on rent

Q. We are a partnership firm having four partners carrying on the business of manufacturing fasteners. One of the partners is the owner of a factory building, which he is prepared to rent out to the firm. Will the rent paid to the partner for such a factory building allowed as a deduction for tax purposes?

— Anshul Gupta, Hisar

A. If a firm has taken premises on rent, that belongs to one of the partners and pays rent to the landlord partner, the rent would be deductible under Section 30 of the Act. This is on the basis of the language of the said section, which allows deduction of rent of premises, if the assessee (that is, the firm) has occupied the premises as a tenant.

Wealth tax

Q. Kindly advise which are the assets chargeable to wealth tax?

— Amarjit Singh, Amritsar

A. Wealth tax is chargeable only on assets specified in Section 2(ea) of Wealth Tax Act, 1957. The assets specified in said section are:

(a) Any guesthouse, residential house, commercial property, and/or farmhouse situated within 25 km from the local limits of any municipality or a cantonment board, but excluding:

(1) A house meant exclusively for residential purposes and which is allotted by a company to an employee or an officer or a director who is in whole-time employment, having gross annual salary of less than Rs 5 lakh,

(2) Any residential house forming part of stock-in-trade,

(3) Any house for commercial purposes (i.e., commercial property) which forms part of stock-in-trade.

(4) Any house, which is occupied by the assessee for the purpose of any business or profession carried on by him,

(5) Any residential property that has been let-out for a minimum period of 300 days in the previous year; and

(6) Any property in the nature of commercial establishments or complexes;

(b) Motor cars, other than those used in assessee’s hiring business or used as stock-in-trade;

(c) Jewellery, bullion, and furniture, utensils or any other article made wholly partly of gold, silver, platinum or any other precious metal or any alloy containing one or more of such precious metals, other than those used as stock-in-trade by the assessee;

(d) Yachts, boats and aircraft, other than those used by the assessee for commercial purposes;

(e) Urban land, being land situated in any area, within the jurisdiction of a municipality or a cantonment board which has a population of not less than 10,000; or within 8 km from the local limits of such municipality or a cantonment board, as the Centre may notify.

However, urban land shall not include:

(1) Land on which construction of a building is not permissible under any law or the land on which building is constructed with the approval of the appropriate authority,

(2) Any unused land held by the assessee for industrial purposes for a period of two years from the date of its acquisition by him, and

(3) Any land held by the assessee as stock-in-trade for a period of 10 years from the date of its acquisition by him;

(f) Cash in hand, in excess of Rs 50,000, of individuals and Hindu undivided families and in the case of other persons any amount not recorded in the books of account.

The assets mentioned above are chargeable to wealth tax without any exemption. The other assets such as, shares, debentures, deposits, units, loans advanced, etc., etc. are not liable to wealth-tax. It may be added that one house or part of a house or a plot of land not exceeding 500 sq m belonging to an individual or a HUF is exempt from wealth tax without any monetary ceiling under Section 5 (vi) of the Wealth Tax Act, 1957.



Buzz on Bourses
Ganesh Housing merges arms

New Delhi: Realty firm Ganesh Housing Corporation has said its Board has approved the amalgamation of five companies with itself. With this, five companies Ramasagar Infrastructure Pvt Ltd (RIPL), Nachiket Properties Pvt Ltd (NPPL), Manjari (Thaltej) Complex Pvt Ltd (MCPL), Shaharsh Infrastructure Pvt Ltd (SIPL) and Ganesh Infrastructure Pvt Ltd (GIPL) will be merged with Ganesh Housing into one entity. “The proposed merger is in line with the trends prevailing in the industry and enable the company to achieve scale, size, integration and enhanced financial capability along with the flexibility of pursuing future growth plans,” the real estate company said in a statement. — UNI

JB Group eyes Kerala

Thiruvananthapuram: Hong Kong-based JB Group has evinced interest in setting up an IT Park in Kochi in three years, and discussions were held in this regard with Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achutanandan. “The talks with the Chief Minister was positive and he has basically accepted the company’s proposal for an IT park near the present Infopark in Kochi,” Gowtam Kanjilal, CEO, Infiniti Consulting Corporation Ltd, a subsidiary company of JB Group which deals with the real estate and investment consultancy sector, said. The government had asked to submit a detailed proposal for the project, he said. The company envisages developing 100 acres of land for IT and IT enabled services and the land for the park should be identified by the government, he told reporters here after meeting the Chief Minister. — UNI

Orbit plans public offer

Mumbai: Real estate developer, Orbit Corporation plans to come out with an initial public offering (IPO) to part finance project acquisitions and fund development cost of existing projects. The price band of the issue of 91 lakh equity shares of Rs 10 each would be between Rs 108 and Rs 117 per share. Company managing director Pujit Aggarwal said the IPO would remain open for subscription for four days from March 20. Orbit Corp recently outbid peers to acquire a two-acre land at suburban Kalina from Gujarat Ambuja Cement at a consideration of Rs 333 crore. — PTI

Royal Orchid hotel in Jaipur

New Delhi: Royal Orchid Hotels Ltd has said it has launched its first four star deluxe hotel in Jaipur as part of its countrywide expansion plans. The company plans to set up forty hotels across the country including 15 five star hotels by 2010 with the Royal Orchid Centralis the first in line, Royal Orchid said in a press note. The new hotel has been taken on lease for a 20-year period from Jaipur-based real estate firm Mehak Paradise. — PTI

Parsvnath buys out stake

New Delhi: Leading real estate developer Parsvnath Developers has announced the acquisition of OCL India’s 50 per cent stake in their joint venture Parsvnath Landmark Developers Pvt Ltd (PLDPL) for an undisclosed amount. With this acquisition, Parsvnath Landmark would now be a wholly owned subsidiary of Parsvnath Developers Ltd, it said in a statement here. “This takeover by Parsvnath Developers will come as good news to our investors, as the revenues from the projects will start accruing in the current fiscal itself,” Parsvnath Developers Chairman Pradeep Jain said. — PTI

RMZ to construct hotels

Kolkata: The Bangalore-based real estate giant and the co-developer of the Rs 450-crore second major IT hub in Kolkata, RMZ Corp, will also construct a chain of 18 star hotels in the country by 2010. Speaking to newspersons after laying the foundation of Ecospace, the city’s second comprehensive IT hub in the presence of Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee and external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee, RMZ managing director Raj Menda said of the 18 hotels two each would come up in Kolkata, Pune and Noida by 2010 for which the land had already been identified. “Now we are in the process of purchasing them,” he said. — UNI



Avoid flower bearing species for topiary

Plants work as a frame for certain construction contours, says Satish Narula

A landscaped garden peps up a living place. Garden planning should, however, be given an extra thought always. It should be expressed on paper first before making the ground a canvas. Follow a few basic rules, supplemented by aesthetics, and you will be rewarded with the best of results.

A piece of advice for those constructing any kind of premises. They conjure up a garden after they are through with the construction and are nearly exhausted, both monetarily and physically. When they come to a horticulture expert, they seek ‘cheap and best’ stuff, which, in itself is contradictory. Else they depend on the architects, most of whom are not aware about the nature of flora. Nothing can be more disastrous as when the result becomes perceptible, much water has flown down the bridge.

At the start of construction, architect and horticulturist should join heads to plan so that there is no clash of utility installations with the plantation. A horticulturist has to think of such plants that do not have high head, spreading roots or interfering branches. Any damage to the plants or trees necessitated at a later stage completely destroys the shape and beauty, besides exposing them to various diseases and insects.

While designing a garden the basic principle is to see how best the existing features, especially the trees, can be utilised without damaging them. A horticulturist understands the beauty of construction and architectural lines and plans in such a way that plants do not hide design elements. Thrusting up a particular feature with the help of plants does this. Plants work as a frame for certain features.

While planning a home garden there has to be demarcation of area for various trees, shrubs, climbers or even herbs and annuals. There is no scope to allow interference of different species with each other, as space is a major constraint. One can create topiaries to accommodate a number of species with judicious planning where contrasting colour combinations are planned as can be seen in the accompanying picture. This, however, is not possible with those species that are valued for flowers. Do not use likes of bougainvillea for topiaries or hedges as when it is bloom time, one has to clip flowers to keep the structure in shape. Another issue to weigh are the sunny and shade aspects, privacy requirements, suitability for placement of various features and above all, the liking and disliking of all family members for certain plants or features.

Always look upwards while planning the planting so that there is no interference. Outside planning needs careful handling as there are underground lines or sewerage. Use a light material like ground cover plants, stones, pebbles, statues etc.

Remember an unkempt place is used for unofficial parking, a squatting area by unwanted elements or even an open urinal. To avoid them, install a small statue or a religious figure in a well-lit area and decorate the surroundings with plants.

— The writer is a senior horticulturist



Global funds eye retail

Global funds are chasing Asian consumer plays — from food and beer makers to store chains — looking to capitalise on an expected wave of consolidation in a crowded industry.

Shunned because of lacklustre growth, retailers are in vogue in Asia with high-profile funds such as Kohlberg Kravis Roberts drawn to firms’ strong cash flows, significant non-core assets such as real estate and quick turnaround potential.

“Private equity-led retail buyouts will be even more furious this year,” said Sung Bo-kyung, chairman of M&A adviser Frontier Group in Seoul.

“Foreign funds will be racing to snap up retail assets in anticipation they could turn around and resell them with fat returns as retailers turn to acquisitions to fight competition.”

Financial investor-led buyouts accounted for 12 per cent of the $17 billion retail M&A volume for Asia-Pacific in 2006, up from just 3 per cent in 2005, according to data firm Dealogic.

Retailers in China and India, dominated by small family-owned stores, should also see more M&A activity as foreign firms vie for a slice of fast growth and as competition makes the case for bigger scale.

India’s fragmented $300 billion retail industry is forecast to more than double by 2015, while China’s $500 billion market is seen growing at 10 per cent a year. — Reuters



Abode and astro aesthetics
Peeyush Agnihotri

Move over Vaastu and Feng Shui. Astro interiors, based on a person’s natal chart, are the latest craze for the cosmically oriented.

“The astro interior concept has started picking up now,” says V.K. Sangwan, a Delhi-based architect, who is also a visiting faculty on the rolls of quite a few premier institutes of the region.

“Vaastu, as we all know, deals with building and site design. It is uniform for all whereas astro interiors are user specific and deal with internal environment of the premises. It is an art of blending environment with the inner self. Not only does it add grace to an interior, but also gives a unique definition to a person’s own small world,” Sangwan says.

“Each astro interior is tailor-made as each element is derived from a user’s horoscope,” he adds.

“As the time cycle of planets is divided into major, minor and sub periods, the elements of interior are accordingly divided into three categories of durable, semi-durables and perishables,” he explains.

Sangwan’s inventory of commercial clients is impressive. Residential schools, nursing homes, real estate giants and even public sector enterprises. The list is long.

“However, we are getting maximum response from the residential segment. We are receiving a number of email queries from foreign-based clients and a few are on the decisive stage. The Indian astro interior concept is going global,” he says.

Interiors, per se, have undergone a sea change, Sangwan says. “Aluminum composite panels, multifunctional and modular furniture, paintings by renowned artists, synthetic murals, glass aquariums and indoor plants now form the core element of most of the interior designing,” he adds.

“All interior designing products have characteristics such as colour, texture, shape, surface pattern, material of what they are made of, and in turn, characteristics of these such as aroma, thermal, magnetic and chemical properties, are governed by the nature of the planets,” he details.



Hunter stalks Indian realty
Teams up to raise $100 million fund

Scottish entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter has teamed up with Icelandic investor Baugur and Britain’s HBOS to finance a $100 million fund set up by pan-European property group Catalyst Capital to invest in India.

Hunter travelled with Baugur chief John Asgeir Johannesson and Catalyst’s Julian Newiss to India last week to conclude the deal, his spokesman said.

The fund will include $40 million of equity and the rest will be debt.

It will invest in hotel development, house-building and land acquisition, initially around Mumbai and then other Indian cities. The fund sees significant investment opportunities in the growing Indian economy but will not compete for larger deals, preferring to remain a niche player.

The fund was part of Hunter’s strategy to diversify investment interests outside the UK, the spokesperson said.

Through the West Coast Capital investment deal, backed by HBOS, Hunter has recently concluded deals in continental Europe, China and America. — PTI



Giants fancy no-frills hotels

Be it a business traveller or a honeymooning couple, everyone wants to stay in a good quality hotel, at a reasonable rate. With the emergence of a wide range of budget hotels, India’s hospitality industry is all set to roll.

According to industry experts, the demand-supply gap of budget hotel rooms in India is currently more than 50,000. Hence they feel there is huge potential in this segment.

Budget hotels provide all basic needs of a traveller, except for certain luxury features such as a swimming pool or a 24x7 coffee shop, and they all maintain global standards of quality with room tariffs ranging between $22 and $100 (Rs 975-Rs 4,430).Bigger players such as the state-run India Tourism Development Corp (ITDC), as also the Taj Group of Hotels (owned by the Tatas) and Welcome Group’s ITC have also entered the segment realising its enormous business potential.

“This market would grow at a smart pace given the economic growth across the country, growth in domestic and international tourism aided by low-cost airlines and better rail/road connectivity and many more new economic centres like SEZs (special economic zones) coming up,” Prabhat Pani, chief executive of Roots Corp Ltd, avers.

Roots Corp Ltd is a subsidiary of Taj Hotels that operates the Ginger brand of hotels.

According to Pani, the mid-segment hotels have scope for several players, as the market in India right now is about two-thirds of the total market.

Amongst the smaller chains, Lemon Tree Hotels has ventured into the budget segment with Red Fox brand. The Kotak Realty Fund, part of the Kotak Mahindra group, has invested over $7 million in the brand.

“The market is enormous and there’s growing demand for such hotels in India, especially at a time when the 5-star hotels are reaching saturation,” Patu Keswani, chairman and managing director, Lemon Tree Hotels, says.

However, these hotels have very little or no visibility in the metros and are concentrated mostly in cities such as Pune (Maharashtra), Bhubaneswar (Orissa), Jaipur (Rajasthan) and Mohali near Chandigarh.

Experts believe high cost of land in cities like Mumbai, New Delhi and Bangalore acts as an obstacle for setting up mid-scale hotels.

“The main challenge is the sky-rocketing land prices,” says Keswani, who plans to open nine Red Fox hotels by 2007 in tier-II cities.

International majors are also eyeing this segment. They include Accor, one of Europe’s leading hotel chains that has tied up with InterGlobe Group. It has promoted the low-cost IndiGo Airline. Others such as Dubai-based Emaar Properties have tied up with Indian real estate major DLF for entering this segment.

A London-based international conglomerate — Dawnay Day — plans to invest $200 million for establishing its footprint in India’s hospitality sector.

“This segment caters mostly to the middle class, which means there is plenty of opportunity. Hence it’s natural for the big international players to be bullish,” opines Sanjay Dutt, deputy managing director of real estate consultancy firm Cushman & Wakefield India.

According to Amitabh Kant, joint secretary in the ministry of tourism and culture, “the size of domestic tourism is currently $390 million growing at a rate of 12 per cent, which is going to be 15 per cent within the next five years, so I can see a tremendous transformational change happening in India’s hospitality sector.

“The demand for hotel rooms will also grow at a massive rate as the arrival of foreign tourists is also expected to see significant increase,” Kant says.

Industry insiders say budget hotels will also come up within mall complexes, which will have an added advantage of retail outlets attached to them. — IANS



Shotgun aims for NRI funding

Bharatiya Janata Party leader Shatrughan Sinha, MP, has invited Asian-American hotel owners to invest in India’s booming tourism sector and avail of income tax holidays on two, three and four-star projects.

“India is indeed shining,” he said, addressing the 2007 Convention of Asian American Hotel Owners’ Association (AAHOA) in Charlotte, USA.

The association is one of the leading forces in the hospitality industry in the US and together, its members own more than 20,000 hotels, representing over 50 per cent of the economy lodging properties and nearly 37 per cent of all hotel properties in the United States.

Sinha, who served as Health Minister in the previous BJP-led NDA regime in New Delhi, said opportunities existed in Indian states like Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Goa.

He told the about 8,300 Asian-American hoteliers that investment climate in India was “favourable” and that the tourism industry was witnessing double-digit growth. Besides, there are sops like a five-year holiday from income tax for two, three or four star hotels as well as for convention centres.

Recently, Indian-American Sikh businessman Sant Singh Chatwal announced plans to invest Rs 4,500 crore for setting up a hotel chain, including 7-star hotels, by 2009. — PTI



Serviced apartments a rage in Goa

Known as a tourists’ paradise and the fifth most-liked tourist destination in the world, Goa is witnessing a holiday real estate boom, courtesy, the fast progressing Indian economy which has enabled a lot of professionals in cities to have a high purchasing power.

Be it boom in information technology or its resultant globalisation, the features of the present day economy have strengthened the real estate business in Goa. The coastal state is witnessing a real estate boom through serviced apartments being developed on the lines of time-share resort club cottages.

Individuals visiting Goa, as tourists from across the country, are showing interest in buying serviced apartments here.

A serviced apartment is a well-furnished, spacious and comfortable accommodation that could be occupied at lesser cost than a hotel room.

Serviced apartments run similar to time-share system at resort clubs. Over the years, this concept is ringing loud in Goa, particularly, in and around Panjim. Reportedly, property rates have appreciated by over 300 per cent during the past two years in Goa.

Ensuring this boom in real estate are the backpackers on a shoestring budget. These peace-seekers from the West or IT professionals and managers in multinational companies wish to relax from their hectic lives.

Holidaying in Goa, many well-off professionals are investing in real estate to get a serviced apartment for themselves, overlooking the vast golden beaches.

“There are distinct advantages of living in a serviced apartment than in a hotel room. A hotel room living is clinical living. But in a serviced apartment you have a choice to cook your own food, continue with your lifestyle back at home. Also, the biggest parameter for preferring a serviced apartment vis-à-vis hotel room is the phenomenal reduction in cost,” says Dinkar Tarkar, a builder of Panjim.

Due to a fast increase in leisure travel trend, where tourist may prefer to rent apartments rather than stay at hotels, various builders in the city have come up with cosy apartments at different cost prices for all such tourists, who wish to have a personal house in Goa.

These holiday or serviced apartments include a bedroom, bathroom, well-furnished kitchen, community laundry and airy storage areas, besides a provision for panoramic balcony and at times a common swimming pool.

When not used by the owner, these apartments can be rented by a contractor, who also sees that all apartments are duly maintained like a home requiring a few daily attention.

On request, a round-the-clock on-site reception is also provided for the occupants’ convenience.

“I come twice of thrice to Goa. And, always living in a hotel is very costly. Hence, I am buying a serviced apartment. So, my family and friends can enjoy here. Secondly, the food I get in hotels usually lacks that north Indian flavour. Naturally, if I have an access to a kitchen I can get the food of my taste,” opines Usman Siddique, an IT executive from Delhi.

Owing to its suitable climate, an all-charming culture potted in its churches, forts, vintage buildings of Portuguese architecture, captivating festive pomp and splendour and friendly locals, has made Goa a big fascination. — ANI



Evaluating Himachal seismically

Vibhor Mohan reports that retrofitting may be done on certain lifeline buildings by NIT, Hamirpur

Last week, mother earth heaved in Indonesia, Iran and parts of Japan. India, too, is vulnerable to earthquakes.

Even though most parts of Himachal Pradesh fall in the high quake probability seismic zone IV and V, earthquake resisting measures are generally absent in the Hamirpur-Kangra region, especially on the countryside, where getting approval from the Town and Country Planning Department is not considered necessary. Even in the cities, most existing houses and commercial buildings need retrofitting after seismic evaluation to include earthquake-resistant features.

Some broad suggestions

  • Get seismic evaluation and retrofitting done
  • Upcoming structures should be handled by experts
  • Use the provisions of relevant Indian Standard Codes
  • Provide ductility in the system to avoid complete collapse

As per a survey, most of the constructions in the countryside of Himachal Pradesh use random rubble masonry and bricks laid in clay mud mortar. Most of them have pitched slate or corrugated galvanised iron-sheet roofing. No attention is being paid to those measures that can make them earthquake resistant.

Dr Umesh Sharma, Assistant Professor with the Department of Civil Engineering at the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Hamirpur, says such buildings can be destroyed in a severe earthquake on account of weakness of the mortar used, absence of bond stones across the thickness of the stone wall resulting into delamination of the inner and outer walls, and separation of the walls at the corners. These may finally result into a total collapse.

You may be living in the lap of nature or in a city, to save your house from falling apart in case of an earthquake, use the provisions of relevant Indian Standard Codes, provide ductility in the system so that complete collapse is avoided and start with important structures, make a scientific study to check whether they need strengthening.

Dr Sharma adds that experts should anyway handle design and construction of special residential and commercial structures.

Experts say that the Indian Standards suggest a number of earthquake resistant measures to improve the seismic performance of such non-engineered masonry buildings. It is suggested that a masonry building should develop a box type action, that is a building with plan shapes L, T, E and Y, be separated into simple rectangular blocks in plan. It is also said that during earthquakes, separated blocks can oscillate independently and even hammer each other if they are too close.

Thus, adequate gap is necessary between these different blocks of the building. The Indian Standards suggest minimum seismic separations between blocks of buildings. Horizontal bands are the most important earthquake-resistant feature in the masonry buildings. The bands are provided to hold a masonry building as a single unit by tying all the walls together. There are four types of bands in a typical masonry building — gable band, roof band, lintel band and plinth band. The lintel band is the most important of all, and needs to be provided in almost all buildings.

The gable band is employed only in buildings with pitched or sloped roofs. In buildings with flat reinforced concrete or reinforced brick roofs, the roof band is not required, because the roof slab also plays the role of a band.

However, in buildings with flat timber or CGI sheet roof, roof band needs to be provided. In buildings with pitched or sloped roof, the roof band is very important.

As part of a state-level earthquake action plan, lifeline buildings are being identified in every district of Himachal Pradesh, for which seismic evaluation and retrofitting would be done by the NIT.

Lifeline buildings would include power stations, communication networks, hospitals and important offices, which are required to be functional in case an earthquake strikes the area.

But owners of private constructions should also go in for re-fitting as most architects in the region, besides the NIT, have the relevant software to re-design the buildings to make it safer.

Dr Sharma informs that the seismic evaluation involves testing the strength of the existing structure. A complete design of the building is made and it is compared with the design codes, which have changed in recent years.

Features like presence of a non-destructive ceiling, strength of concrete and the amount of reinforcement are studied before suggesting appropriate retrofitting. Large parts of district Hamirpur falls in Zone IV of seismic zone and some of it is also included in the highest probability zone V. Most key buildings in districts Hamirpur and Kangra were damaged in the massive earthquake that rocked the area in 1905. The area continues to be hit by earthquakes at regular intervals and the threat of a major tremor has always been a cause for concern.