As I drive past the roads of Bengaluru, all I see is huge hoardings of various developers and builders with beautiful pictures of residential and commercial complexes, wooing buyers of all types! Gone are the days when cinema ads dorned our roadsides. What hurts me most is the fancy names that these builders give to their projects, which come up on the grave of thousands of fruit-yielding trees or fertile fields-Green Orchards, Gardenia, Trees, Shrubs, Riverside, Lakeview and what not!
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Housing is important and it is but natural for every human being to look for a shelter. But this latest trend of development does not aim at ‘shelter for all’ but only results in indulgence by people, who already own houses. There was a rule long back, that one person could own just one property within the urban limits of the city. But now, banks sanction loans for any number of properties. That means a lot of change.
There are thousands of people, who are now clamouring to purchase a second property. As if this was not enough, developers are attracting investors from other states and even NRIs with flashy ads and tall promises. Agricultural and forest lands around the city are quickly being converted into layouts and commercial complexes. Never mind even if thousands of constructed tenements in almost all complexes are lying vacant and most of the malls have become just deserted, dull warehouses, where the turnover is hardly enough to even pay the rents of the shops.
What is the state of the people who have already invested in second houses? The Government agencies wash their hands off the services like water, garbage collection or sewage clearance. To add salt to the injury, many cases of illegal conversions, encroachments and deviations are surfacing and even the so-called prominent builders are no exceptions in appearing in the list of culprits.
Since the builders hand over the projects to the owners of the apartments for maintenance after the sale of all tenements, the sufferers are the owners, who have to handle all the legal issues, maintain the property which starts suffering from poor construction standards and tackle social and legal hurdles that non-cooperative co-owners throw. In all, life in the flashy gated communities is not so comfortable and peaceful as expected. Maintenance charges keep on escalating. For senior citizens, who invest their retirement funds in such homes, expecting a secure and peaceful retired life, life becomes hell.
Lessons to learn from US housing crisis
Just a couple of decades ago, we saw how the US economy had a great fall for thrusting too much on housing. A number of banks had to close their shutters because over-ambitious investors could not meet their mortgage dues when their investment became a dead investment. Many people were on the streets and even committed suicide. At that time, Indian economists analysed with pride as to why the Indian economy did not suffer that much.
They said the conservative attitude of the Indians in general was the greatest saviour. For an Indian, buying a house is a lifetime ambition and the employees of Government departments and public sector undertakings enjoyed the privilege of buying a house and repaying the housing loan throughout their service. That loan itself was considered a great burden and many of the borrowers tried to clear the dues faster by using all their incentives and bonuses for the same.
The IT boom changed the scene completely. Youngsters who got into jobs started purchasing houses of their own within a couple of years of service. They are not as conservative as their parents are and go in for more expensive homes, as they can afford heavier mortgage payments. Slowly, the developers started tapping this liberal attitude and cornering the youngsters with attractive schemes.
Youth who came from around the country for jobs here, started investing in houses, though they had no set plans of their career or future. Now, India and particularly cities like Bengaluru are following the route that US economy followed back then!
Lakes, fertile agricultural lands, small hillocks, beautiful old heritage bungalows, factories and theatres are all quickly being converted into apartment complexes, malls and multiplexes. As though construction is the only activity for development, all other important aspects are being sidelined. Ecology is the worst sufferer. Kirloskar Electrics, GKW, L & T, AMCO Batteries, and even Government concerns like HMT and ITI, which were giving employment to thousands of people, have vanished or are in the process of degeneration. It is sad to see the lovely HMT colony, which had lakhs of trees, being converted into concrete jungle by private builders.
Can the government save Bengaluru from developers?
Can the Government not even ensure that such lands which belonged to them should be developed by them, without harming the ecological contribution that the projects made over decades? Why hand them over to greedy private builders, for whom money, money and money but nothing else is the aim?
Indians are supposed to be intelligent and smart. But this trend proves otherwise. We want to tread the same path that somebody followed and failed miserably, despite knowing fully well. The bubble is getting bigger at a faster pace. Every individual is now bringing down his single house and building four or five apartments with commercial space too, in the hope of making quick money. There is no thought given to ventilation, pollution, noise, garbage, traffic congestion and peace. Narrow 20-30 feet roads are lined up by huge apartment complexes on either side. Where should all the vehicles that all these residents drive, move? After all, just like the construction industry, the automobile industry is mindlessly selling vehicles and minting money.
Gone are the days when purchasing a four-wheeler was a luxury and two wheelers were considered great assets. Every family now has more number of vehicles than the members in the family!
In all, life in Bengaluru has become a nightmare. Will some good sense prevail upon some sane governing bodies? Can this mindless growth be capped immediately and the bubble stopped from bursting?