Navi Mumbai airport grounded but real estate takes off

Written by Shalini Nair | Navi Mumbai | Updated: Oct 6 2010, 06:31am hrs
The view from the deck of the three-bedroom apartment does not boast of much except a labyrinth of under-construction buildings which seem to be rocketing skyward. The frenzied construction is in stark contrast to the quiet of the sparsely populated streets outside. There is no public transport in sight and, in the absence of any private vehicle, the only way to reach the nearest local railway station 2.5 km away is a brisk walk.

Yet Kharghar in Navi Mumbai is at the centre of the biggest real estate buzz in the financial capital, thanks to the proposed international airport project next door, even if it is one which is still struggling to secure environmental clearances from the Centre. The three-bedroom apartment, for instance, is located in a barren concrete jungle surrounded by hills. It is a one-and-a-half hour drive from the heart of Mumbai and has no local transportation worth its name. Yet it is audaciously priced at Rs 1.25 crore. Real estate experts admit that the price tag has to do with the airport project on the other side of the railway track. Kharghar is the suburb which is nearest to the site of the proposed airport and accounts for barely 5% of the total area of Navi Mumbai. However, its 131 new projects that are underway account for more than a third of all new residential projects in the satellite city. Even relatively plusher Navi Mumbai suburbs such as Vashi and Nerul put together have less than a fourth of the projects. The real estate race to Kharghar has been fast and furious. Barely five years ago, this mofussil gram panchayat area was a fairly affordable alternative to middle-class home buyers who could not buy a house in Mumbai.

That was when a three-bedroom flat in Kharghar was available for Rs 30-35 lakh, said Narsimha Raju, a local broker. With murmurs of an airport coming up near Kharghar growing louder, investors have started flocking leading to a steady increase in rates. Clusters of completed buildings plunged in darkness at night in some parts of the suburb stand testimony to the fact that investors are buying in and keeping them vacant to ride the boom, causing rates to spike and edging out genuine home buyers, he said. While the cost of flats is in itself prohibitively high, developers cashing in on the demand are also charging up to Rs 4 lakh for a parking space, up to Rs 2 lakh for club memberships and up to Rs 50 extra per sq ft for every higher floor. Moreover, balconies and decks that are supposed to be sold at one-third the per sq ft rate of the flat are instead being sold at 130% of the rates.

Imran Patel, an investor who recently bought a penthouse in Kharghars Sector 35, a good 6 km away from the railway station, says the inaccessibility of the area doesnt bother him at all. He says he knows everything will follow once the airport is in place. Ten years ago, when I bought a flat in Vashi, no autorickshaw would agree to go there. Today Vashi is the most developed node of Navi Mumbai. Once the airport comes up here, there would be a huge spurt in property prices in Kharghar, said Patel, whose brother has also invested in two apartments nearby. Builders and investors are not the only ones excited though. The airport project has propelled the City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO), the planning body for the area, to draft ambitious plans. Kharghar is set to get a 18-hole golf course and a 80-hectare Central Park on the lines of Londons Hyde Park and New York's Central Park. Also on the horizon is Bollywood Hills, a 100-hectare hill-side development modeled after its Hollywood namesake. CIDCOs joint MD Tanaji Satre said that the first phase of Central Park is complete while a 10-hole golf course would be ready by the end of this year.

But Satre admits that although CIDCO has taken care of Kharghars infrastructure, the lack of local transport services is a concern. Providing transport services is not in our hands. However, Kharghar will be connected to the proposed 10.7 km Line One of Navi Mumbai Metro by 2014, he said.

And will the property boom and the high-profile projects hinging on the airport remain on track regardless of the fate of the airport project "It is very important that the airport comes up but Kharghar will now grow nonetheless," said Satre. Delays and uncertainties notwithstanding, even mere talk of an airport has fuelled Kharghar's overnight metamorphosis.