PUNE: The business of illegal constructions on the city's fringes is thriving on anticipation, that of these villages merging with Pune civic limits one day. But the fluid merger plan has created a monster in concrete - of buildings with questionable quality being sold at questionable rates.
If the wide Pashan-Sus road leading to Sus gaon has 'developers' here quote Rs 5,000-6,000 per sq ft for flats overlooking the hills, in Uttamnagar village in Haveli taluka the going rate is Rs 3,000-4,000 per sq ft. In Shivane village, flats are priced from Rs 2,500 - 3,000 per sq ft. Developers rush potential customers to finalise deals as "rates are all set to shoot once the villages are merged". The pop-up advertisements on the internet peddling studio apartments to villas in these areas are only indicative of how illegal realty is now official business.
Deals here are struck on the roadside. On Monday afternoon, at Kondhawe Dhawade village, a 'site inspector' offers this correspondent a 550 sq ft flat for Rs 19 lakh. "It's a good deal. And if you pay in cash, even better," he coaxes, and whips out his high-end phone, has an animated conversation with the property's owner and quotes his final figure - Rs 15 to 16 lakh.
These waiting-to-be-merged villages are divided by distance, but bonded in the deals they offer. At Sus, a dealer by the name Kashinath offers a tempting Rs 4,500 per sq ft as the early bird rate for an otherwise expensive (Rs 6,000 per sq ft) apartment project. Cash is almost always encouraged, with the dealer offering a further concession on his owner's behalf if the payment is made upfront and in cash, indicating how deals here are possibly done.
Questions on structural stability and that of the recent collapse of the building in Narhe are dealt with confidence and tall claims. "This is quality construction. We are in the business for a long innings," says Kashinath. Probe him on who the RCC consultant is, and it turns out he is donning that cap too. And then he throws in the deal clincher: "This village will be merged with PMC limits and property prices will range between 8,000- 10,000 per sq ft."
If permissions are a concern, dealers of illegal properties know how to handle them. The site inspector at the Kondhawe Dhawade village claims that the under-construction building has a Non-Agriculture (NA) certificate and permission from the gram panchayat. He then admits that the five-floor building has permission only for the first three floors. "We will further slash the price if you choose a flat on floors that have not got clearance. But don't worry, this is not an illegal building," he says, and then insists that this correspondent pays a token amount to close the deal. "The village is going to be merged with Pune civic limits and all these buildings will be regularised," he says, reasoning how this would be a good investment.
It's not small timers alone running the illegal realty show. Bigwigs have a major stake. In one such construction firm in Shivane, an official says an upcoming project's construction has stopped for "technical" reasons. The official then shows concern for the potential customer (this correspondent) and reveals how the collector had slapped a notice on the owner after the building collapse in Narhe. "Think before you invest here. People like you and me are not rich and can't afford to lose money. This building is completely illegal. No permission has been taken and after the Narhe building collapse, the collector office has slapped a notice on our owner," the official says, but quickly adds how the owner is influential so there might be no problem later.
The state government is sitting on the merger of 34 villages with PMC limits for years, but in villages slated to be merged, properties are selling like hot cakes. In Uttamnagar village, there are people who are working as agents for small time builders. Small one and two-room houses, being constructed along a nullah, start popping up towards Khadakwasla. "It is not a slum, but a proper house," explains the agent. "If you want to invest between Rs 5 and 10 lakhs, you can safely invest here and sell it afterwards," he says, assuring guaranteed returns on the investment.
And almost no one believes that the government would ever take any action against these properties. Residents of small houses and apartments that peep through lush green mountains in these villages, say they have no reason to worry. "There are influential people who have cut the entire mountain. There can't be different laws for the rich and the poor. If we are illegal occupants, so are they," says a local resident Eknath Patil.
"If major constructions being used commercially have been legalised, why can't this be," asks Laxmi Kamate a housewife.
She maintains that she is not scared of Narhe-like building collapses.