‘We need to rebuild our houses’
Gautam Hooja, who once felt a surge of pride telling others that he lived in the residential area of Bengali Market, is a disappointed man today. His rented accommodation is in a dilapidated condition, not fit to live in or to sell.
Surprisingly, about 70 other families in the area have similar problems. A notification issued by the union urban development ministry in 2003 that made residential areas such as Babar Road, Abul Fazal Road and Tansen Marg a part of the Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone (LBZ) is the root cause of the problem.
“The concept of LBZ was introduced in 1988 for the controlled development of areas around the walled city and included areas like Connaught Place, Prithviraj Road, etc. Several restrictions were imposed on redevelopment with the objective of preserving Delhi’s heri- tage. In 2003, when LBZ was modified, Bengali Market and some of its surrounding residential areas were also added to it,” says Hooja. Ever since, house owners in the area have not been able to acquire permissions for new construction plans. More than 70 single-storey houses have very old construction plans dating back to the 1930s and 40s and most of them are in a dilapidated state.
Homeowners argue that it is hard to accommodate their growing families if they reconstruct as per the old plans. They are, therefore, forced to live on rent in some other colonies in Delhi while their houses in Bengali Market remain without any occupants.
“Potential homebuyers are not willing to pay much because they know that they cannot get new construction maps approved from the New Delhi Municipal Corporation. Hence, selling property is not a lucrative prospect here,” says a house owner.
Last year’s increase in cir- cle rates was yet another blow to the real estate market here. Consequently, today the market price of a house in Bengali Market is lower than the circle rate.
“The new circle rate, which falls in the A category, is R6,45,000 per square metre. So, a house measuring 225 sq m (280 sq yd) fetches only around R13 crore to R14 crore as per the market price while the same house costs R15.5 crore as per the circle rate,” says a resident.
Residents, who have not been able to get their houses converted from leasehold to freehold, allege harassment by officials of the land and development department of the urban development ministry. “Initially all properties here were leasehold. The government introduced the freehold scheme in the year 2000. Around 150 out of 270 house owners got their conversion done within a few years of the launch of the scheme. But the others are still running from pillar to post for doing the same,” says Praveen Gupta, one of the residents.
Despite all these issues, Bengali Market remains a much sought-after real estate destination owing to its central location and the presence of cultural hubs such as Kamani Auditorium, Bharatiya Kala Kendra, Triveni Kala Sangam, Mandi House and Ravindra Bhawan.
Some of the public figures who reside here are BJP leader Vijay Goel, former cricketer Kapil Dev, former RBI governor Bimal Jalan and former chief justice of Uttarkhand VN Gupta. The popular Bengali Market with 26 shops is a popular hangout for office-goers in Connaught Place, students of Modern School, Lady Irwin College, Mata Sundri College and Zakir Husain College.
“This market is both a boon and bane for us. While it fulfils all our needs, it causes traffic congestion. It also poses a security risk. There are no gates to secure the residential lanes,” says Gupta.