A breath of fresh air for Delhi’s heritage zone

HT Estates - - HTESTATES - Ash­winder Raj Singh

Ahaven of ar­chi­tec­tural ex­cel­lence, Lu­tyens Bun­ga­low Zone (LBZ) is an area which sin­gle­hand­edly gives Delhi dis­tinct recog­ni­tion as one of the best cap­i­tal cities of the world. De­signed and built by Bri­tish ar­chi­tect Ed­win Lu­tyens and his team in the 1930s, this part of Delhi has main­tained its im­pe­rial char­ac­ter partly, due to the gov­ern­ments of the day pre­serv­ing its soul. How­ever things are Set to change soon. As of to­day, LBZ cov­ers ap­prox­i­mately 3,000 acres, or ap­prox­i­mately 1.5% of the land­mass of Delhi. It has about 1,000 bun­ga­lows, out of which only 65 to 70 are for pri­vate use. The rest are re­served for use by min­is­ters and other gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials. It is home to var­i­ous gov­ern­ment of­fices, the Par­lia­ment, the Pres­i­den­tial res­i­dence, In­dia Gate and dif­fer­ent types of bun­ga­lows for gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and min­is­ters. De­signed with aes­thet­ics in mind, the zone was kept in­tact and de­void of any new de­vel­op­ment for sev­eral decades, even as the city around it grew in leaps and bounds.

To main­tain the sanc­tity of this lo­ca­tion, strict rules were im­ple­mented: no high rises, no base­ments and no change in the con­struc­tion of the bun­ga­lows and build­ings in the en­tire zone. The re­sult was mas­sive in­equal­ity in the us­age of land be­tween LBZ and other parts of Delhi — and as­tro­nom­i­cally pricey real es­tate in LBZ even with­out the ben­e­fit of the lat­est fa­cil­i­ties.

Ar­eas like East Delhi have be­come densely pop­u­lated and house as many as 1,100-1,600 peo­ple per acre of space. LBZ cur­rently has only 14-15 peo­ple per acre. Lu­tyens’ Zone is in the heart of the city and has wide, green open spa­ces. Land here had al­ways been in very high de­mand, de­spite the sky-high prices caused by the pre­vail­ing sale re­stric­tions and lim­ited avail­abil­ity of prop­erty for pri­vate use. In Lu­tyens’ Zone, sale or pur­chase of prop­er­ties for more than ₹ 100 crore has been the norm over the past few years. In March 2015 a 2.4 acre plot was priced at ₹ 304 crore - one of the big­gest ticket sizes for a res­i­den­tial plot in the coun­try. About a year pre­vi­ously, the big­gest sale recorded here was for a 2,290 square yard plot at ₹ 220 crore.

How­ever, this mas­sive sale hap­pened af­ter a long gap of al­most two to three years. In the in­terim pe­riod such spec­tac­u­lar trans­ac­tions were more or less put on hold. While there used to be 18-24 trans­ac­tions ev­ery year three years ago, the past one year saw only 12.

In­dia faced a slump in the econ­omy dur­ing the sec­ond term of the UPA, with GDP growth slow­ing to 4.7% and the real es­tate sec­tor see­ing one of the worst down­turns ever. The global econ­omy too gave lit­tle rea­son for bil­lion­aires to splurge on tro­phy prop­er­ties. Also, the Lok Sabha elec­tions in 2014 also com­pelled peo­ple to sit on the side­lines and wait for the new gov­ern­ment’s poli­cies per­tain­ing to the real es­tate sec­tor and black money.

These were far from clear in the be­gin­ning of the new gov­ern­ment’s term, and this caused a lot of ret­i­cence among those with the clout to en­gage in the kind of trans­ac­tions which de­fine prop­erty deals in Lu­tyens’ Zone. Thanks to the lim­ited sup­ply, prices here did not go south, but trans­ac­tions were nev­er­the­less held in abeyance as po­ten­tial buy­ers waited for pric­ing to cool down.

This did have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the mar­ket, and caused rentals to shoot through the roof. Many po­ten­tial buy­ers be­came ten­ants in­stead, shelling out as much as ₹ 25-40 lakh per month for a bun­ga­low. To­day, how­ever, Lu­tyens’ Zone’s prop­erty mar­ket is in for a ma­jor sea change.

In a city that is spread­ing out to accommodate more and more ci­ti­zens, this po­ten­tial free­ing up of space in the heart of the city is ob­vi­ously a wel­come de­vel­op­ment. That said, such plans have been un­der dis­cus­sion for many years, and suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments have been vis­i­bly averse to tak­ing con­crete de­ci­sions de­spite know­ing the ben­e­fits of such mea­sures.


Free­ing up of space in the heart of the city is a wel­come de­vel­op­ment

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