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India on a Developing Spell
Source: Hindustan Times

Indian real estate has gone through some significant transformation in the past few years the highest of the high being the unprecedented flow of FDI following the opening up of the sector, interest rates at a very affordable 7 per cent, public listings of many companies and price hike; on the other end the lowest of the low has been market capitalisation of the recently listed companies hitting unexpected lows, a 20-30 per cent price correction in the metros, sluggish absorption, spiralling inflation adding to the already high input costs and the worst of the lot interest rates at 14 per cent.

But, these are surface level fluctuations that operate on what must be described as one of the biggest opportunities in the world for construction and infrastructure development. India needs not just homes (22 million of them), there is need for offices, SEZs, airports, roads, schools, hospitals, entertainment centres … the list is endless. This inherent need is an opportunity that cannot be denied. In 2020, India is slated to be an economic super power and one of the underlying assumptions is that infrastructure would be the booster rocket of growth. But, for all this to happen, some realities of the real estate business need to change.

The following three things will be a reality in 2020: 100 per cent infrastructure - Real Estate projects, whether residential or commercial, will have 100 per cent infrastructure guarantees. This means that all projects would have quality access roads, water, electricity, connectivity, safety and security. Our cities are bursting at the seams and given our pace of development, the shortcomings of meeting infrastructure needs are likely to widen.

Thus, the realty projects that are likely to succeed in the future will be those that have quality in terms of basic infrastructure. In fact, real estate development which encompasses housing, schools and colleges, hospitals, SEZs, offices, retail and industrial developments, entertainment centres and sports facilities will converge with the conventional infrastructure (of roads, water, electricity, airport, ports etc) and be seen as an integral part of infrastructure development of the nation.

SRZs - Special Residential Zones must become a reality. Unless one addresses affordable housing for the teeming millions much of the expected gains may remain a dream. The SRZs are like SEZs, only the development caters to housing for the masses. SRZs are to be free of government levies and taxes, thus making homes more affordable by upto 30 per cent. This will ensure that the common man has a chance of getting a roof over his head at affordable prices with the best of essential amenities.

Green mantra - Green and a sustainable environment while carrying out urban development would be part of the landscape like water and electricity. This is not only because one needs to contribute to preserving our environment, but also because sust'ainability would translate into distinct cost advantages. Green and sustainability will be consumer driven and not necessarily developer driven.

Three more things that will happen to change the face of the real estate sector by 2020 include: Land would have uniform laws throughout the nation. Currently land being a 'state' subject is under the jurisdiction of the local governments. There is a kaleidoscope of interwoven state, centre and local laws dealing with every parcel of land. This means that there are varying rules, regulations, standards, practises, from town to town across the country. In short-business is not as usual across India. Even the simple concept of replicating 'best practises' across the country cannot be replicated smoothly due to a fragmented legal framework.

A single window for all NOCs and clearances - There is hardly any predictability in terms of when one can get clearances or NOCs. It can take any time from three months to three years. One of the primary reasons for this is the lack of a single window for all clearances and NOCs.

Reducing the 'time to market' will reduce costs. The current unpredictability results in a significant loss of efficiency A single window clearance will cut out this unpredictability, enhance efficiency and ultimately pass on cost benefits to end-users as risks of delay significantly decrease.

Efficient land records - Perhaps the riskiest part of the real estate business is the lack of robust and reliable land records. If one were able to have reliable land records by 2020, one would have taken a huge step towards making the sector bereft of risk.

In 1991, our then Finance Minister Manmohan Singh had concluded his maiden budget presentation with these words, "No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come". The time for real estate development to drive the GDP, to create employment and to take India to its rightful position in the comity of nations — is here! During the next two decades the signage across our country will be "India: under construction."

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