Press News

Uttar Pradesh ranks highest in new investments in real estate sector

Akhilesh Yadav ruled Uttar Pradesh has been ranked top with maximum share of about 40 per cent in the new investments attracted by real estate sector among top 20 states across the country during the first quarter of current fiscal, industry body ASSOCHAM said today. Interestingly, the total new investments in real estate sector across the country had dipped by over 50 per cent during the course of past one year.

RMZ Developers closing in on Rs 700 crore milestone deal

RMZ Developers, one of the top three office-space developers in Bangalore, is closing in on a milestone transaction which will see the developer selling close to a one million square feet of fully fitted out office space to a single client for as much as close to Rs 700 crore. This transaction will mark the second major deal in Bangalore in the recent past, after Volvo India is also reported to be closing in on a transaction of similar magnitude with Bangalore-based Bagmane Group.

Golden Tulip to open 3 new hotels in UP

Growing hospitality chain, Golden Tulip Hotels plans to open three new hotels in Uttar Pradesh in the next two-three years. The company already runs 14 hotels in India, including one in Lucknow. "We are looking at Allahabad, Varanasi and Agra as possible locations to open new hotels in the state," Louvre Hotels MD (South Asia) Vimal J Singh told Business Standard here. He said these hotels could either be Greenfield or Brownfield properties.

Sarovar Hotels to venture into more religious destinations

Sarovar Hotels and Resorts, a leading hotel management company is all set to open three-four star hotels in temple towns like Tirupati, Rishikesh , Amritsar and Bodhgaya. The group already has hotels operating in Badrinath, Haridwar, Rajkot and Nashik.

Chembur – A residential hub

The skyline of various suburbs in Mumbai has witnessed a great change. Chembur, situated along the harbour line, has improved drastically, in terms of infrastructure and residential spaces. Small houses and quaint bungalows are giving way to high rises and lifestyle residential complexes. Yet, one section of the area, old Chembur, has a lot of colonies and small houses. Diamond Garden and Ambedkar Garden are a few places that are going in for redevelopment, whereas, Chedda Nagar and Deonar are seeing new developments.

DLF may sell Rs 900 crore assets to Shriram Group

Realty giant DLF has held talks to divest some of its southern projects worth about Rs 900 crore, or $150 million, to the developer arm of the Chennai-based Shriram Group, said people directly familiar with the matter. Shriram Properties is in discussions to acquire land parcels and not yet launched projects of DLF, which is seeking to pare its $3.5-billion (over Rs 21,000-crore ) debt through non-core divestments. DLF wants to focus on select cities and pursuer highend developments with better operating margins.

Alchemist buys land in Kolkata, to invest Rs 600 crore in project

National capital-based realty firm Alchemist Township has bought about 20 acre land in Kolkata from a local builder Highland Group and will invest Rs 600 crore to develop a residential project. Property consultant Jones Lang LaSalle India facilitated the deal. Alchemist Group is promoted by K D Singh, a Rajya Sabha MP from Trinamool Congress Party.

Housing to get costlier on 30% hike in cement prices

After witnessing a price correction in all major markets owing to sluggish demand,cement prices have increased by over 30% in a month to Rs 275 for each 50kg bag.With the trend expected to continue,a cement bag is likely to cost over Rs 325 this festive season,hitting the ailing realty sector and making it costlier to purchase that dream home.

Real estate investors go slow, home buyers in NCR to benefit

A lack of activity from the investor and underwriter segments is increasingly leading to a situation where real estate developers have no choice but to cater to the requirements of an end-user – as a result, a home buyer is in a better position to negotiate and take benefit of the softening prices.

3C Company, RMGL join hands to raise awareness about green living

The NCR-based 3C Company has announced its association with Rapid Metro Gurgaon Ltd (RMGL) to spread awareness about sustainable developments and green living. Under the agreement, RMGL will run a rapid metro train tagged as 'green', thereby enabling 3C to reach out to a larger audience within Delhi NCR.

Marks & Spencer to open 6-8 stores in near future

Unfazed by economic slowdown, British retail major Marks & Spencer today said it continues to bet big on this market and will open six-eight new stores over next six months. M&S operates 35 stores under Marks & Spencer Reliance India, which is a joint venture between Marks & Spencer Plc of Britain and Reliance Retail.

Economic slowdown, inflation and steep interest rates pinches realty
Source : The Economic Times

The economic slowdown, inflation and steep interest rates have been dampeners for the real estate sector. But if these conditions persist, they can work to the advantage of home buyers — especially in the National Capital Region and Mumbai where property prices have soared unreasonably high. A price correction is highly probable.

"Developers with large unsold inventories of high-end and luxury units will have to lower prices as the current run of sales through innovative marketing and offers such as the 20:80 schemes are coming to an end," Shweta Jain, executive director of real estate consultancy Cushman and Wakefield, says.

Despite lobbying with the government for incentives, developers say there isn't much hope of these coming, at least not until the elections due next year.

As the worsening economic conditions dampened sentiments, sales of residential and commercial assets hit a slowdown resulting in unsold inventories, choking builders' cash flows. Premium segment sales crawled. In 2012-13 things worsened. Launches and absorption of residential properties in the top seven cities plunged by 37% and 23% during FY11-FY13, aggravating the sector's structural problems, a Knight Frank report says. "Developers were caught in a trap — of ambitious expansion, decelerating sale, hardening interest rates, and weakening cash flows,'' it says. Their capacity to service debts further worsened. Fund inflow through FDI too dried up.

All this piled pressure on developers to cut prices. "There's an undercurrent to cut prices to push sales. Developers are short of cash. But this isn't yet visible on the ground," CB Richard Ellis MD Anshuman Magazine explains. There's a demand for residential property. But, other than the poor sentiments, sky-high prices are slowing sales.

A developer explains: The problem lies with the fact that only parts of projects launched in the last three to six months are sold. The remaining inventory in the same project is unsold. The developer can't slash rates for the unsold units. If he does so, earlier buyers who purchased when the project was launched, too will ask for reduced rates.

Jain says despite poor sales, many developers are still holding on to their quoted rates and the declines over the past quarters are marginal, But "there are expectations that prices would be lowered given the mounting cash-flow problem resulting from low off-takes, mounting input costs and debt servicing."

She says the scenario is especially true in the NCR and Mumbai where developers have launched major high-end and luxury projects. End-user driven markets in cities such as Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata are still recording reasonably healthy transactions as projects are priced more reasonably.

The market rates are likely to be first cut by investors who buy projects for the short term. Most of them bought around one to two years ago. Since then rates have appreciated by around 20% to 30% in the NCR and Mumbai. Now, with interest rates rising and prices stagnating for at least three months, many are tempted to sell and exit.

An investor says there's little hope of prices going up in the next one year. At the same time, he has to pay 11% interest on investment, that's if he borrowed money or lose a like amount in opportunity cost. Prices have appreciated since he bought the property and buyers are a lot fewer. So, the only way out is in cutting price and pulling out. Even then, Magazine says, this will take a while to happen because investors are still hoping that prices will appreciate.

Builders are putting up a brave face and saying there's no scope of a major price slash yet. "Input costs have skyrocketed in the last year and we work on low margins," Vineet Gupta, ED, Ajanara group, says. If prices have to be shaved, there'll be no new launches, which will affect supply and in the long term, because demand is perennial, rates will rise. Ultimately, realtors won't be able to build by cutting losses.

86 realtors inclusing Emaar MGF, DLF show interest for Haryana affordable housing project
Source : The Economic Times

As many as 86 real estate companies, including DLF, Emaar MGF, Raheja Developers have shown interest in developing Haryana government's most ambitious affordable housing project in the state.

Haryana's Town and Country Planning Department has received licence applications from real estate developers for setting up affordable houses for which a policy was announced by Bhupinder Singh Hooda led state government last month, official sources said here.

Maximum number of applications for licenses has come for setting up houses in Gurgaon city at 50, followed by Sohna at 14, Faridabad at 10 while rest are for Jhajjar, Palwal, Rewari, Karnal and Nilokheri.

Among companies which have submitted license applications, prominent real estate groups are DLF Ltd and Emaar MGF, Essel Housing at Gurgaon, SRS Hightech projects at Faridabad, CHD Developers at Karnal and Sohna at Raheja Developers, they said.

In a bid to ensure affordable houses in urban areas, Haryana cabinet approved an affordable housing policy 2013 last month.

Under this policy, the state government envisaged to make available 1.25 lakh affordable dwelling units having carpet area of about 500 sq ft each in the urban centres of Haryana, which are constructed through the capital investment of private sector within a period of next five years.

The maximum allotment rate for the apartment units approved under such projects has been kept at Rs 4,000 per sq ft of carpet area in the development plans of Gurgaon, Fairdabad, Panchkula and Pinjore-Kalka, Rs 3,600 per sq ft in the development plans of other high and medium potential towns and Rs 3,000 per sq ft in the remaining low potential towns.

As security against any possible delinquencies in completion of the project, the developers under this policy would be required to furnish bank guarantee against the total realisation from the project at the rate of 15 per cent for areas falling in the development plans of Gurgaon, Faridabad, Panchkula, Panchkula Extension and Pinjore-Kalka and at the rate of 10 per cent for rest of the towns.

Govt clears licensing, leasing of land for 5 projects at ports
Source : The Economic Times

The government today approved a proposal for licensing of land to developers for four projects at major ports under the Public Private Partnership mode.

It also cleared leasing of land for a cement bagging plant at Cochin port.

"The Union Cabinet today approved the proposal for licensing of land to the concessionaires for four projects to be taken up in the PPP mode and one project on lease basis based on tender-cum-auction for setting up a cement bagging plant at Cochin Port," an official statement said.

However, it did not give the details of the projects barring one in Cochin port.

It said the decision will help in augmenting the capacity of ports expeditiously through PPP mode and bring about efficiency in operations at major ports that will benefit the trade and the overall economy.

India has 12 Major ports - Kolkata-Halida, Paradip, Visakhapatnam, Ennore, Chennai, V O Chidambaranar (formerly Tuticorin), Cochin, New Mangalore, Mormugao, Mumbai, Jawaharlal Nehru and Kandla.

Around 95 per cent of India's foreign trade by volume and 70 per cent by value is transported through sea. Major ports account for 75 per cent of the total cargo by volume handled at the country's about 200 ports.

Over 30 per cent population in Delhi stay in one-room homes
Source : The Economic Times

Over 30 per cent of Delhi population lives in one room dwellings while around three percent resides in more than five-room accommodations, as per a Delhi government report released today. According to Delhi Statistical Handbook 2013, 32.2 per cent of city population including both rural and urban stays in single-room dwellings followed by 29.6 per cent of those staying in homes with two rooms.

The annual survey, compiled by Directorate of Economics and Statistics, has also found that over 55 per cent of population have their own accommodation while 32.52 per cent of Delhiites stay on rent.

While 20 and 10.4 per cent of population reside in three and four room houses respectively, interestingly, only 3-4 percent of population can afford an over five-room residence.

Despite class difference, Delhiites seem to agree on sanitation as nearly 90 per cent of population has latrines in the house with three per cent reporting open defecation.

Rs 1,000 cr welfare project for construction workers
Source : Business Standard

The Karnataka government has planned a slew of welfare programmes for construction workers to enhance their skills and impart quality education to their children. "The government plans to set up residential schools for children of workers and also marriage halls and skill development centres for them," Labour Minister Parameshwar Naik said.

The residential schools will be opened in all the eleven corporation limits across the state and government would spend Rs 800 crore to Rs 1,000 crore on the project, he said. The government would create infrastructure for such schools and vest responsibility of running them with Delhi Public School, Naik said, adding they were expected to be opened by June next year.

"There should not be any problem in meeting the deadline as there is no money problem. The Karnataka Building and Other Construction Welfare Board has Rs 800 crore in its account," he added. The labour department has already written letters to all the eleven Deputy Commissioners for land acquisition, the Minister said. It will acquire land from Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board (KIADB) and some departments, he said.

The board also proposed to establish a state-level academy of construction in Bangalore on the lines of National Academy of Construction in Hyderabad. The academy would be named after renowned engineer and recipient of the Bharat Ratna late Sir M Visvesvaraya, Naik said.

The board also plans to set up skill development centres for the benefit of construction workers and their children and to build marriage halls in Bangalore, Hubli, Mysore, Mangalore and Gulbarga, he said.

Indians vote Mumbai as world's second best city: Ipsos
Source : The Financial Express

Indians have voted Mumbai as the world's second best city after Singapore for doing business and for living purpose, according to a study by market research company Ipsos.

Singapore was voted as the world's best city followed by Mumbai, New York, London, and Abu Dhabi which makes to list of top five.

'Bangalore is India's best city to live in'

Commenting on the findings, Ipsos India Head Marketing Communication Biswarup Banerjee said "Mumbai is the commercial and entertainment capital of India and it is also the most populous city in India. No wonder people across India who aspire to make it big have voted Mumbai, the city of dreams as the best place to do business and live in."

'Chandigarh is best city in India'

In terms of doing business, Indians perceive Mumbai as the best city followed by Singapore, Abu Dhabi, New York, London, Hong Kong, Beijing, Tokyo, Sydney and Paris as the top cities in the world.

Delhi best city to live in: CII

The report further added that Indians have rated Mumbai as the best place to live in in the world, followed by Singapore, London, New York, Abu Dhabi, Paris, Sydney, Los Angeles, Zurich and Washington.

Ahmedabad best city for urban poor, says JNNURM

Meanwhile, the global survey by Ipsos, which covered 18,147 people in 24 countries said New York City, London, Paris, Abu Dhabi and Sydney are the world's favourite cities in terms of doing business in, living in and visit.

No Indian city was featured in the overall list.

Respondents chose from a list of 48 major cities and asked which ones were the best to do business in, which were best to live in and which people most wanted to visit.

Each city was given an overall score based on the sum of responses across all three categories.

The individual winners of each category globally were: New York (Best place to do business), Zurich (Best place to live) and Paris (Best place to visit), Ipsos said.

Govt notifies changes in FDI policy
Source : The Financial Express

The government has notified changes in the FDI policy, paving the way for larger overseas investments in sectors such as multi-brand retail and telecom.

It also widened the definition of the term 'control' for mergers and acquisitions involving overseas companies, a move that will provide more clarity to foreign investors.

The notification follows the Cabinet decision of August 2 to relax overseas investment norms.

The foreign direct investment (FDI) policy is now notified under FEMA regulations and is effective from August 22, Department of Economic Affairs Secretary Arvind Mayaram told reporters here.

According to the new definition, 'control' will include "the right to appoint a majority of directors or to control the management or policy decisions including by virtue of their shareholding or management rights or shareholders agreement or voting agreements."

"We believe since the announcement of FDI policy, FDI has increased...FDI is increasing in India and investor confidence is increasing," Mayaram said.

In the first quarter of the current financial year, FDI was USD 9 billion, up from USD 5 billion in the corresponding period last year, he said.

The notification will have to be tabled in Parliament within 30 days of the commencement of the next session, Mayaram said, adding it could also be put to vote in case a member decides to challenge it.

As per the revised FDI guidelines, the government relaxed norms for multi-brand retail trading and eased the mandatory 30 per cent local sourcing norms for companies.

FDI in insurance has been kept at 26 per cent as the bill to raise the limit to 49 per cent is pending in the Rajya Sabha.

The cap in telecom was increased to 100 per cent from 74 per cent. FDI of up to 49 per cent can come through the automatic route.

Malls to contribute 35 per cent of modern retail sales by 2016: Report
Source : The Economic Times

With popularity of mall culture on the rise, these swanky shopping centres are expected to contribute to more than a third (35 per cent) of the modern retail sales in the next three years, says a report. "With modern retail regularly occupying about 95 per cent space in malls, its growth has been bolstered and is being led by increased mall development. It is no surprise that the share and contribution of mall sales to modern retail sales will cross 35 per cent by 2016," a study titled 'Malls of India' by Images Research said here today.

Despite growing concerns of a general economic slowdown, the report said average sales are expected to keep increasing.

"The average sales per feet is still expected to keep increasing at an average of 12 per cent and reach Rs 1,475 by 2016. Consequently, around 720 malls with 206 million sq ft gross leasable area and 154 million sq ft retail carpet area will see total sales revenue generated by malls break the Rs 2,32,400-crore-mark by 2016, registering a high 85 per cent occupancy levels," it said.

It noted that the 470 operational malls have an estimated gross leasable area of 128 million sq ft.

"Within the last two years, the malls count has grown by 28 per cent per annum matching the growth rate of modern retail," the report said.

According to the study, as many as 250 upcoming malls are at various stages of development, which are expected to take the gross leasable area to 206 million sqft by 2016.

A housing slump in India: Real estate market crumbles as economy slows The Economic Times

The Orbit Grand, a block-size complex designed to have at least 26 floors of elegant apartments, an extensive array of ground-floor stores and abundant parking for the chauffeured cars of residents and shoppers, was supposed to be a diadem of India's real estate market.

Now it is turning into a symbol of the slumping fortunes of property developers and owners in a once-promising emerging economy. Construction of the Orbit Grand has almost completely stalled at the 10th floor, the tower crane at the site seldom moves and the builder has defaulted on its loan.

"There's no real work going on right now. There's just a minimum number of workers coming in to do small things," said Alam Sheikh, an electrician who is one of just 14 builders left at the site.

The real estate market in cities across India is crumbling as the Indian economy slows. The rupee has dropped nearly 20 per cent against the dollar since early May, scaring away foreign investors.

The Reserve Bank of India raised a key short-term interest rate for commercial banks' borrowing by two full percentage points in mid-July, to 10.25 percent, mainly to prevent further declines in the rupee. To put a brake on the flow of money leaving the country, the central bank followed up last month with a regulation banning Indians from transferring money overseas for real estate purchases.

Rising financing costs are all the more painful because India's real estate developments take a long time to build because of a vast and often corrupt regulatory apparatus. Publicly traded real estate investment groups in India are heavily in debt, so they struggle to make interest payments and are not in a position to bankroll further projects.

That combination has produced almost unanimous bearishness about the short-term prospects for residential, commercial and industrial real estate prices in India. Sanjay Dutt, the executive managing director for South Asia at Cushman & Wakefield, the world's largest privately held commercial real estate company, predicted that prices would fall 10 percent in big Indian cities and 15 percent on the outskirts of large cities, where many speculative projects have been built. He said, "Given the universal sentiment of the market, there could be a sharp correction between now and Gudi Padwa," an annual festival next March that has long been considered in India an auspicious time to buy real estate.

What has sustained prices so far, and what might prevent more serious losses than those predicted by Dutt, has been the willingness of developers to hold growing inventories of unsold apartments, shops and offices without offering price discounts. The volume of real estate transactions has slumped in India as developers have refused to offer discounts for fear of starting a market rout.

"If they drop prices, investors will panic and it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy," causing further declines in prices, said Siddharth Yog, a co-founder and managing partner of the Xander Group, a large international real estate investment firm started in 2005. That was the year India began allowing foreign institutional investors into its real estate market.

But with sellers refusing to cut prices, many potential buyers are losing interest. Devkinandan Agarwal, a Mumbai broker with three-quarters of his business in residential real estate and the rest in commercial real estate, said that until the last few months, he had at least three or four separate meetings each day with genuine, interested buyers; now he has only one a day.

"There are now only actual users in the market, there is hardly anyone buying real estate as an investment," he said.

One longstanding complaint about business practices in India is that the country's banks lend heavily to a wealthy elite who often put very little of their own money into deals. These developers rely on minority investors and bank loans for most of the financing. India's debt tribunals, for companies unable to repay what they have borrowed, have tended to move slowly. They are reluctant to force founders of companies to incur large losses even in corporate reorganizations in which creditors and minority investors lose heavily.

Raghuram Rajan, the new governor of the Reserve Bank of India, said at his inaugural news conference last Wednesday that he would try to change this. "Promoters do not have a divine right to stay in charge regardless of how badly they mismanage an enterprise, nor do they have the right to use the banking system to recapitalize their failed ventures," he said.Bimal Jalan, a former chief economic adviser to the Indian government who was also the governor of the central bank from 2000 to 2004, said in a telephone interview from New Delhi that the broader Indian economy could escape serious harm even if real estate prices did decline. India has low rates of homeownership, so families are less likely to be worried about falling home prices and cut household spending.

Housing finance has played a small role in the Indian banking system, so Indian banks are less vulnerable to real estate downturns than banks in the West, Jalan said. Regulatory obstacles have slowed the pace of construction and limited the number of buildings to finance. The construction of the Orbit Grand here illustrates many of the issues in Indian real estate, including costly regulatory delays. The Orbit Corporation, a publicly traded Mumbai developer, began building the complex and several others in western India with a $62 million loan in 2008 from LIC Housing Finance Ltd., based in Mumbai. But a combination of litigation over whether Orbit had full title to the entire site, which Orbit did not win until last March, together with a new set of municipal real estate regulations introduced in late 2010, slowed the pace of construction and prevented Orbit from preselling apartments. The company actually had to erect two separate buildings, with plans to join them together later, because the litigation, a chronic problem in Indian real estate, delayed construction on the 30 percent of the site's acreage that was in question.

"This led to a severe cash crunch at the company and resulted in the stalling construction of the project," said Ramashrya Yadav, the chief financial officer at Orbit.

Orbit defaulted on the LIC loan at the end of last year with a little more than a third of the original balance not yet repaid. LIC put the Orbit Grand into receivership in early August. But as often happens in India, Orbit has kept control of the sites.

Yadav said that Orbit had now raised the money to finish the projects, and it received the needed environmental clearances four weeks ago. The Orbit Grand stalled with 10 stories completed out of 26, although the firm is seeking regulatory approval to extend the building up to 36 stories. Another project, less than a mile away, Orbit Terraces, stalled with 40 of 60 floors built.

Gangar paschim kul Varanasir samatul (The western bank of Ganga is as holy as Varanasi)
Source : The Telegraph

Howrah, the 500- year- old city overshadowed by younger sibling Calcutta, will be the seat of governance from October 5as Writers' Buildings takes arevamp break. What does it mean for Mamata's new neighbours? Anasuya Basu and Amrita Ghosh find out

Gangar paschim kul Varanasir samatul ( The western bank of Ganga is as holy as Varanasi)

Howrah the west bank is Mamata Banerjee's lucky charm, having given her party both its parliamentary seats, 15 of the 16 Assembly seats, 34 of the 40 zilla parishads, all the 14 panchayat samitis and 130 of the 157 gram panchayats.

" Howrah has never let her down and the chief minister wants to pay her back," said Arun Ghosh of Bali.

The payback, according to Ghosh and many westbankers like him, is Mamata's decision to shift the seat of power to the 14- storey Howrah River Bridge Commissioners ( HRBC) building on Kshetra Banerjee Lane until the renovation of Writers' Buildings is complete.

Short step, long step

First, the long road. Those travelling from Calcutta by public transport should cross Vidyasagar Setu and alight at the first bus stop in Mandirtala.

From there, a walk along Kazipara Lane on the left or Sheikhpara Lane on the right will take them to Kshetra Banerjee Lane under the flyover.

Kshetra Banerjee Lane, one of the two approach roads to Vidyasagar Setu, brings commuters right in front of the building's entrance.

Now, cut to the short cut — the incorrigible reality of a jaywalker's capital. People get off buses when they slow down near the toll plaza off Vidyasagar Setu, take a twominute walk along the flyover and climb down brick stairs that have sprung illegally for local convenience.

Other short options are breaches in the barbed wire fence — erected to prevent people from climbing down the flyover to access Kazipara Lane or Sheikhpara Lane.

The alternative route is not a novelty but a time- saver for thousands of commuters

Ashish Das, a chemistry teacher at Dinabandhu College on GT Road, is among them. He travels from Santoshpur to Rabindra Sadan, takes a bus to the toll plaza, climbs over the bridge and walks along Kazipara Lane to reach his college.

"Or else I have to take a long ride till Mandirtala and walk back about 3km to reach my college on GT Road. Buses to Mandirtala from Rabindra Sadan are few and far between," he said.

Tanusree Das, a first- year student of Bijoy Krishna Girls' College, Kuntal Chatterjee, a teacher at a primary school in Domjur, and Biman Ganguly, an employee at the Howrah Treasury, have exactly the same grouse: not enough buses from Calcutta to Mandirtala, which is the nearest bus stop to the new seat of governance.

The government had announced more buses on this route since deciding to shift to HRBC building, but they are yet to be introduced.

The options are a T2 that travels from BBD Bag to Mandirtala, a K6 from Tikiapara via Rabindra Sadan or a K7 from Andul Road to Ruby Hospital via Mandirtala. " It's impossible to board them.

They are packed like the bus in the Fevicol ad!" Ashish Das grumbled. " After a sweaty bus journey, the long detour on foot from the bus stop is killing," he added.

The breaches and the illegal staircase have appeared after a broad stairwell from the bridge was blocked permanently since 9/ 11 for security reasons. In fact, the HRBC building stands perilously close to the two flanks of Vidyasagar Setu.

Perilous because " anyone can strike the building from the two approach roads of the bridge," said a senior officer of Howrah police.

Temple run

Mandirtala in Shibpur on the southern tip of Howrah gets its name from the nearly dozen temples, mostly Shiva shrines, sprinkled in the area.

It is a congested residential hubbub where maze- like alleys jostle for space with houses built so close that lorries often scrape boundary walls.

Multiple speedbreakers at the end of the approach road have cut down the truck- wall collisions, a constable said.

On the right is a large bus stand with rickshaws and taxis parked haphazardly.

The Shiva temple on Shibpur Road comes alive around 7pm as devotees settle down for a chat after the sandhya arati . " There is hardly any open space here. We come to the temple for a breath of fresh air," said Banibrata Haldar, a retired private sector employee who lives in Kshetra Banerjee Lane.

Shibpur Road veers off from Mandirtala and meanders into labyrinthine lanes and alleys, typical of the Howrah townscape.

A string of eateries — Bridge View Hotel, Roll and Tandoor, Appayan Hotel — stand cheek by jowl on the right. To the left are some gumtis ( shacks) that sell just about anything from Chingles to Bauli croissants to dhoka and chops.

"This is the most happening place in south Howrah. In the evenings, it is packed with people of all ages. Youths on bikes queue up in front of Roll and Tandoor. Bridge View has a hangout pad on the terrace for the young," said Mira Ghosh, a Shibpur old- timer.

The older and retired citizens while away time on the divider of the approach road, enjoying the cool river breeze in the evening. " It's an after- office social networking site for us," said Ghosh.

Shibpur is the " poshest" of south Howrah neighbourhoods and its cultural capital is a lane called Bajiye Shibpur or what is now known as Baje Shibpur. This is home to authors Sankar and Shankarlal Bhattacharya, Rabindrasangeet artiste Swapna Ghoshal, theatre personality Arun Mukhopadhyay and cartoonist Narayan Debnath.

Pride and prejudice

The prospect of having the chief minister as a neighbour draws out a smile on Banibrata Haldar's face and then a shrug. " Hopefully, the roads will be widened, there will be better transport and more job opportunities," he said.

Calcutta's poor cousin would now have a " social standing", the residents said.

" Our relatives in Calcutta often taunt us… that will change," said Tulsiranjan Ghosh, a retired government employee. Like everyone else, he predicted a spike in property prices. " Land prices have gone up already. I own a vacant plot and relatives are telling me to hold on to it because its value will hop, skip and jump!" he said.

Shankar Das, a former resident of Mandirtala who often comes to his old para to catch up with friends, said: " Writers' shifting here will be good for the place. Security will improve.

Chain snatchings and burglary are common here.

It's not safe to be out after 10 at night." Das now lives at Ichhapur Quarters, where he has been given accommodation after the government took over his property during construction of the Vidyasagar Setu.

The area had been " safe" until the second Hooghly bridge was built. " After houses were taken over and people relocated, this congested area became a dumpyard for construction material. The dark and lonely stretches under the bridge have turned into hooch and drug dens. In fact, the biggest drug den in Malibagan is barely half a kilometre from the HRBC building," Ghosh said.

A small statue of Vidyasagar in a barren park named after him outside the main gate of the HRBC building stands covered in dust amid frenetic activities to prepare the place for the government to sit. A shout away, local strongman Alok Gupta runs his business from his house on Kshetra Banerjee Lane.

"Howrah is 500 years old, yet neglected. The place used to be infested with criminals… drugs, hooch, snatchings and extortions. We local residents drove these criminals away to Malibagan," he said.

"The decision to shift the headquarters here will be good for the area." The one thing that he doesn't want shifted is a half- finished Kali temple inside the park and barely 100m from the building.

A similar anxiety is bothering Bhagabati Dutta, who lives in one of the houses that face the approach road to Mandirtala. Her son runs a gumti to supplement the family income — his late father's pension. " There is a buzz that all gumtis will be demolished to scale up security in the area. If our shop is razed, how will we survive with a meagre pension?" the septuagenarian wondered.

Bhagabati survived the eviction drive during the construction of Vidyasagar Setu.

She hopes to be lucky a second time.

As a resident of Howrah, what do you feel about Writers' shifting across the river? Tell