Saturday, November 23, 2013

Alibag offers housebuyers reprieve from Mumbai city life

Alibag offers housebuyers reprieve from Mumbai city life

As transport links improve, interest is growing in the coastal town of Alibag south of the Indian metropolis
mountains and beaches around Alibag©Alamy
The mountains and beaches around Alibag are a draw for wealthy Mumbai residents, and transport options are improving
Stepping off a speedboat on to a private jetty in Alibag, a coastal town separated from Mumbai by a narrow strip of the Arabian Sea, a traveller’s bags are whisked away by a man wielding a wooden cart. The porter deposits the luggage in the car park but doesn’t linger for a tip.
He doesn’t need your money. The alleged story is that this Alibag local made a fortune selling his family land to wealthy buyers from Mumbai keen to build second homes across the bay. He quit his job temporarily but, unaccustomed to the wealth and spare time, he soon returned to his work on the pier.

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It is a familiar tale in Alibag, where unspoilt greenery, clean beaches, open space and silence broken only by the sound of wildlife is the norm. This is all unimaginable in the metropolis over the water, explaining partly why wealthy residents from Mumbai have been buying property here for more than a decade now.
Sameer Nerurkar, head of Samira Habitats, one of the largest developers in Alibag, started buying land here in 1994 for between Rs25 (£0.28) and Rs45 (£0.50) per sq ft. That range has now shifted to between Rs250 (£2.80) and Rs1,000 (£11) per sq ft. And of the 1,900 acres of land Samira owns in Alibag, Nerurkar has only 250 acres under development as he believes prices will continue to soar and there will be money to be made in sales. “You should double your money in two years,” he says.
Demand for property in Alibag has grown as connectivity with Mumbai has improved. “People are starting to own more water-based transport, buying yachts and speedboats,” says Subhankar Mitra, a strategic consultant at Jones Lang LaSalle.
A decade ago, the only option was a four-and-a-half hour drive along a potholed road, or a two-hour ride on a battered public boat from the southern tip of Mumbai. Today, the government has invested in improving roads to cut the drive to about three hours. And there is an air-conditioned catamaran service that takes just 45 minutes.
map of Mumbai
A getaway property here has become a status symbol in the city’s competitive social circles. “It’s like owning a Mercedes,” says Nerurkar, who points out that cricketing hero Sachin Tendulkar has a home here.
Nerurkar’s own house is a good indication of the type of glamour you can now find in Alibag. Rather than a single building, it has the feel of a hotel resort, with several structures dotted around a plot of 65,000 sq ft. There is a circular outhouse, intended to store cigars and vintage wines, which has since been converted into an extra bedroom to accommodate some of the boatloads of guests that come here for parties. A secret garden leads to a secluded spa. And past clusters of garden furniture made from oversized slabs of exotic woods, there is a pool and a games room.
“We’re seeing a lot of activity in Alibag,” says Saurabh Gupta, the chief executive of “For people in Mumbai who don’t want a hectic city life, it’s a very good option.”
Mumbai has extended as far north as possible and the nearest dry land to the west is Oman. Alibag, to the south, is the natural extension. And several transport links are in the pipeline.
Mitra, of Jones Lang LaSalle, mentions plans for a trans-harbour link, a 22km bridge that will provide a shortcut by road, and the widening of the national highway that connects Mumbai to Alibag.
At the Santi Villas complex, Samira Habitats are selling half-acre plots. The idea is for the developer to take care of the paperwork, while buyers are helped by design teams to build bespoke homes. That can cost anything from Rs40m to Rs100m.
Then there is Samira’s Pavilions development, due for completion in the next two years. This is the low-maintenance option, with two- or three-bedroom, semi-detached homes in a gated community with a shared pool and clubhouse. It is priced at Rs13.5m and Rs16.5m for properties on 2,000 or 3,000 sq ft of land. is offering a four-bedroom farmhouse for Rs80m. The property requires renovation but it is set on a beautiful 1.24 acre site near the popular Nagaon beach, with orchards of coconut and mango trees.
Broacha House in Alibag©Alamy
Broacha House in Alibag, built by Samira Rathod Design Associates
Yet rather than going through a developer or for a completed house, most people still purchase land directly from a farmer and hire their own architect. That means it is up to them to navigate the planning jungle of village chiefs and inspectors.
“A lot of people are flouting rules,” says Nerurkar. “Half the people aren’t aware of the permissions they need. There is an inspector and every year the inspector wants to make money – they pay them off.”
If you want to live on untouched land, you also have to build your own infrastructure. “People are buying farmland and trying to go it alone,” says Vandana Ranjit Sinh, of the Mumbai-based Ranjit Sinh Associates.
Alibag could benefit greatly from a planning framework to balance the demands of the buyer, the locals and the natural environment.
Samira Rathod, a Mumbai-based architect, has worked in the town for more than a decade and says that without a master plan, “it will mushroom and become another Bombay”.
Starved for space in Mumbai, Rathod says the real opportunity is in the lush greenery, mountains and fresh air of Alibag. Many Mumbai residents building in Alibag want imported marble, Balinese furniture and infinity pools, but Rathod’s own three-bedroom house is, she says, a “simple tube” on less than an acre of land she bought a decade ago for Rs600,000. She has built a sheet of artificial rain to wet the exterior of one wall so when the sea breeze blows through the window it provides natural cooling.
Ranjit Sinh has designed twin cottages in the area. The 2,500 sq ft properties are raised on plinths and there are orchards of mango and coconut trees, while walls of concrete grilling play with the light and the air. “As an architect, my concern is not to change the lay of land and the way water flows across it,” she says.
The big question is how local farmers feel about wealthy city residents taking over their native soil. Farmers who have sold their land often do not know what to do with so much money made so quickly. “What the local villagers see is that this huge house comes up with a pool and they’re having parties,” Rathod says. “And their own house tap has no water.”
Not every local will respond to this inequality with the graceful contentedness of the porter on Alibag pier.
Buying guide
● Alibag’s temperature is usually two or three degrees Celsius lower than Mumbai, thanks to its greenery, coastal location and low population density
● In the past 15 years, the value of land has multiplied 20 times on average
● Depending on the classification of land, there is a cap on the proportion that can be built up
What you can buy for . . . 
£100,000 A small apartment with shared amenities including an outdoor pool
£500,000 A villa on at least half an acre of land in a premium area, with a pool
£2m A villa designed by a well-known architect on two acres of land by the sea. Amenities could include a home theatre, gym, pool, landscaped gardens and a helicopter hangar

Source : By Avantika Chilkoti,

Will Tehelka's real owners please stand up?

Will Tehelka's real owners please stand up? 

Will Tehelka's real owners please stand up?

Will Tehelka's real owners please stand up? 

Tehelka is owned by Anant Media Pvt Ltd, which, as per filings available with the registrar of companies, is a subsidiary of KDS Corporation, a company controlled by entrepreneur and Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha MP Kanwar Deep Singh.

The latest balance sheet of Tehelka available with the RoC is for the fiscal ended March 31, 2012. As on that date, Royal Building and Infrastructure Pvt Ltd owned 65% equity in Anant Media Pvt Ltd. KDS Corporation owns 85% equity in Royal Building and Infrastructure. KD Singh and his wife Mrs Harpreet Kaur together own 23.93% equity in KDS Corp, a holding company of sorts for a number of companies that are part of the Alchemist group, a diversified conglomerate with interests in food processing, retail, hospitality, real estate and other sectors.

On Thursday, after the Tehelka sexual harassment case snowballed into a major issue, Trinamool Congress spokesperson Derek O'Brien tweeted that KD Singh had just clarified to him that he did not own Tehelka. "KD Singh just clarified to me 'I am not the owner of Tehelka. I have nothing to do with the publication'," O'Brien tweeted. The TMC spokesperson told ET that he had tweeted what Singh had told him and had nothing further to add on the matter.

It's unclear if Singh's companies have sold its holding in Tehelka after March 31, 2013. KDS Corp's balance sheet for the fiscal ended March 31, 2013 lists Anant Media as a subsidiary. Singh did not respond to a questionnaire emailed to him and was not available on the phone. This, despite ET trying to contact him over two days. Tejpal and Tehelka managing editor Shoma Choudhury did not respond to emailed questions about the company's ownership structure. Tejpal owns 19% equity in the company, with equity held by family and friends adding up to nearly 10%.

A little over 5% equity is held by a company called Weldon Polymers Pvt Ltd. Senior advocate Ram Jethmalani, one of the minority shareholders, told ET that the turn of events at the company was very unfortunate. But Jethmalani, one of India's foremost criminal lawyers, who has appeared for Tejpal in court in the past, said he would not be at hand to defend the Tehelka editor in this case. "After the December gangrape case in Delhi, I have resolved that I will never appear in such a case. For me to appear against the girl in court in a case like this gives me the shivers."

Apart from Singh and his wife, equity in KDS Corp is owned by two companies - Optimum Constructors and Developers Pvt. Ltd and Placid Estate Pvt. Ltd. The first, Optimum Constructors, is part-owned (23%) by KDS Corp itself. During the fiscal ended March 31, 2012, KD Singh and his wife transferred the entire shareholding of Placid Estate to two directors Satish Mehta and RP Chhabra.

Mehta sits on the board of Anant Media, which has two members nominated by the Alchemist group and two members from the Tejpals' side-Tarun Tejpal and sister Neena Sharma. It's unclear what the private arrangement between the two main blocks of shareholders is, with respect to control and voting rights on the board. Shareholders in KDS Corporation are KD Singh and his wife Mrs Harpreet Kaur (together 23.93%), Optimum Constructors and Developers and Placid Estate Pvt Ltd.

Optimum Constructors and Placid Estate both list their registered address as 23, Nehru Place, which is listed by the Alchemist Group on its website as the group's corporate headquarters. The website identifies KD Singh as chairman emeritus of the group.

For the fiscal ended March 31, 2012, Anant media posted a loss of 10.5 crore, down from a loss of 16 crore the previous year. Royal Building and Infrastructure, the Alchemist group company, extended an unsecured loan of Rs19 crore to Anant Media during the fiscal ended 31 March 2012.

KD Singh has been in the news for his brush with the law on two occasions in the recent past. In 2011, he was intercepted at New Delhi airport carrying an unspecified but large amount of cash. He was boarding a flight to Assam, where assembly polls were due and Trinamool Congress was contesting. Rival CPM had then alleged that he had illegally taken 57 lakh to Assam as the airport officials allowed him to travel after he identified himself as an employee of the Alchemist group.

More recently, in September, market regulator, Securities and Exchange Board of India, barred Alchemist Holdings from accepting deposits from the public. It held that Alchemist Holdings and Alchemist Infra Realty Ltd had together raised more than 1,400 crore in illicit schemes. In June, it had asked Alchemist Infra to repay the money it had collected from investors. In 2012, the government had ordered a probe by the Serious Fraud Investigation Office into Alchemist group companies.

Source : By Sruthijith KK, ET Bureau 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Kishore Biyani's Future Group in talks with Actis Capital to buy supermarket chain Nilgiris 

If the deal eventually goes through, it will give Biyani control over 140 supermarket chains in south India, where the Future Group is trying to boost its presence

If the deal eventually goes through, it will give Biyani control over 140 supermarket chains in south India, where the Future Group is trying to boost its presence 

Kishore Biyani-owned Future Group, India's largest listed retailer by revenues, is negotiating with private equity firm Actis Capital to buy Nilgiris, a Bangalore-based supermarket chain in which it holds a majority stake, a person with knowledge of the negotiations said.
If the deal eventually goes through, it will give Biyani control over 140 supermarket chains in south India, where theFuture Group is trying to boost its presence. "Nilgiris has an annual turnover of 700 crore but 60-70% of the stores are run by franchisees and Nilgiris gets a fee for use of the brand and by selling bakery and dairy products to the franchisee stores. So the revenue is not all on Nilgiris' books. According to me, the enterprise valuation should not be more than 450 crore," the person aware of the discussion said.
In 2006, UK-based Actis had bought 65% for about $65 million in Nilgiris.
Nilgiris is India's oldest organised retail chain founded in 1905. Since India barred foreign investment in multi-brand retailing at that time, Actis had invested in Nilgiris Dairy, the backend company that operates some of the stores. A spokesperson for Future Group declined comment while Tashi Lassalle, a spokesperson for Actis in London, said the company does not comment on "market speculation".
Murali Krishnan, chief executive of Nilgiris, did not respond to a questionnaire. Last year, Actis had mandated HSBC's investment banking unit to find a buyer. At that time, Actis was seeking an enterprise value of $150-170 million for Nilgiris. No deal fructified because of this mandate, though PE firms had expressed interest according to people aware of the earlier discussions. "For PE funds, timing is independent of the events and if they have to exit they have to exit," says Harminder Sahni, MD of retail consultancy Wazir Advisors.
"It's been a while since Actis has been trying to sell. Their option is either sell or return the shares to the original investors. They have to close regardless. It's always complicated for most companies to transfer shares to original investors," he said, adding that the buyer might be able to strike a good deal. Future Group, which has been trying to trim its high debt — it was as much as Rs 7,800 crore early last year — might seem an unlikely buyer at first glance.
But people familiar with its strategy say it is interested in retailers that specialise in supermarkets to scale up its neighbourhood grocery format known as KB Fair Price. Last year, Future Group snapped up New Delhi-based Express Retail, which operates the Big Apple chain of supermarkets in the National Capital Region, for an undisclosed amount. "If this deal happens, it will give the much-needed scale to KB Fair Price to make it attractive for (potential) foreign investors or companies," the person quoted above said.
Last year, India allowed foreign supermarket chains to own up to 51% in domestic retailers. On the other hand, Biyani is also on a selling spree. Earlier this month, the group said it had divested stake in ethnic apparel firm Biba and fashion designer Anita Dongre-run highstreet apparel chain AND for about Rs 450 crore.
Biyani is also creating holding companies for businesses, including KB Fair Price, home improvement unit Home Town and sports goods retail chain Planet Sports with the intention of shedding sizeable stake. His firm is currently in talks with a clutch of private equity players.
Executives say currently the company's debt is at a manageable level of Rs 4,500 crore and the company is hoping to pare it further by selling stake in insurance joint ventures and various other businesses.
Source : By Rasul Bailay & Chaitali Chakravarty, ET Bureau 

Diamond merchant Dilipkumar Lakhi buys Cadbury House for Rs 350 crore

Diamond merchant Dilipkumar Lakhi buys Cadbury House for Rs 350 crore 

Realty developers like Lodha Group, Oberoi Realty, Peninsula Land were among the players that had shown interest in acquiring the property for redeveloping it.
Realty developers like Lodha Group, Oberoi Realty, Peninsula Land were among the players that had shown interest in acquiring the property for redeveloping it. 

A Mumbai-based diamond merchant has bought Cadbury House, a popular South Mumbai landmark for around Rs 350 crore, said three persons familiar with the development.
Realty developers like Lodha Group, Oberoi Realty,Peninsula Land were among the players that had shown interest in acquiring the property for redeveloping it. But the new owner of Cadbury house, Dilipkumar Lakhi, the diamond merchant is believed to be acquiring the property for personal use. The deal was signed on Tuesday evening.
Cadbury House — named after its original owner, Cadbury, the confectionary company that Mondelez's parent Kraft bought in 2010 — is spread over a 1.1 acre plot on Pedder Road, just opposite the Malalaxmi Temple. The land parcel that so far housed Cadbury's headquarters will have total development potential of about 100,000 sq ft under new rules.
Acquired by Cadbury in 1981 and refurbished in 2001, the white, artdeco building comprises two structures: a two-storied office and an eight-storied residential block that is home to several senior employees.
Mondelez and transaction advisor Cushman & Wakefield declined to comment while stating that the sale process in on. An Email query sent to Dilipkumar Lakhi's office remained unanswered until going to press.
The deal is likely to take around three months to conclude. Late 2012, the company leased additional office space in Lower Parel. Last year, Lodha Group acquired the US Consulate's Washington House, a threestoried residential building at South Mumbai's Altamount Road for Kailash Babar375 crore. Currently property rates in this plush locality of Mumbai range betweenRs 60,000 and Rs 70,000 a sq ft.
Source : By Kailash Babar, ET Bureau 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Cognizant vice-chairman Lakshmi Narayanan pursuing his hobby of making toy trains

Cognizant vice-chairman Lakshmi Narayanan pursuing his hobby of making toy trains

Since making his first model train in 1977, Narayanan has made 30 such sets, spending over Rs 10 lakh, and not even his close colleagues know about it.

Since making his first model train in 1977, Narayanan has made 30 such sets, spending over Rs 10 lakh, and not even his close colleagues know about it.

Lakshmi Narayanan, 60, the former CEO and the current vice-chairman of one of the fastest-growing top-tier IT companiesCognizant Technology Solutions, is learning to code again these days. Not because he wants to be hands-on with the latest in the area of his company's expertise. In fact, it has nothing to do with work. Narayanan is at it just to be able to keep up with his hobby of 36 years--making toy trains.
Since making his first model train in 1977, Narayanan has made 30 such sets, spending over Rs 10 lakh, and not even his close colleagues know about it. In recent months, he has started learning to use a software called 'Anytrack' through a mass open online course. He's also using a program called Bachmann.
"In the future, in a connected world, every device can be programmed. Hence this skill is important," says Narayanan. The idea started in his schooldays, when he used to watch with awe the small model trains that used to be exhibited during science fests.
"Train is something that I was always fascinated by. Watching trains go over bridges excited me." His dream hobby began taking shape in Boston in 1977, where he was working for TCS at that time. It cost him $150. Santa Fe and North West, two trains which ran in the US around that time, were the first two models he made. He wasn't even sure if the customs department would allow him to carry the models back; so he left them with his landlord there. He didn't leave the hobby behind, though.
Every week, Lakshmi spends three hours pursuing it, doing everything from using balsa wood to build the bridges on which his trains would run to oiling the wheels. This is the time he's entirely cut off from the rest of the world, locked up in the glassdoored room on the first floor of his house, dedicated to toy train-making, without even a cellphone.
"Once I am in that room, my wife will always complain because no phone calls, no shouting, nothing will reach me," he says. He's has a lot to think about - tracks, engines, carriages, bridges and even stations. "I have one theme-based model, where you have a station, a village, trees, houses and roads. It's a village station."
Toy trains don't constitute a simple world anymore. There are different scales such as O, N and HO. Narayanan prefers the HO scale. There are different standards as well, one followed by the European manufacturers and another by the Americans. There are "some compatibility issues between the two." He needs to keep his research on this going. Narayanan's interest takes him to junk shops as well as to sites such as trainworldonline, the web site of a Brooklyn store.
"Four or five visits to a shop, (and) you are down by Rs 2-3 lakh. I know this is a hobby without any end. You can make it as complicated, as big as you possibly can." The coding idea came from US-based Mark Anderson, another enthusiast, whom Narayanan has never met in person. But they keep exchanging ideas over mails on how to build these trains.
"I know him for the last six months and he is a crazy man like me who has been building model trains." Mark introduced Narayanan to software for designing tracks. So, after some initial difficultly in grappling with it, Narayanan is back to coding, which he first tackled as a student. (He did is MSc in electronics from Bangalore University before getting an MBA from the Indian Institute of Science, Department of Industrial Management).
Narayanan says while his work has taught him how to plan for attaining a goal, his hobby has taught him how to be patient. But there's one aspect of his work, he says, he isn't able to implement while making toy trains. "At work, I am able to trust and leave it to others. But while making trains I can't."
Does his wife share his interest in toy trains? Narayanan laughs and says, "She has given me a separate room, which is isolated. The only thing she says is take your cellphone so that I can call you if someone comes home." His next goal is to build a toy metro rail system.

Arvind Kejriwal declares assets worth Rs 93 lakh

Arvind Kejriwal declares assets worth Rs 93 lakh

Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal Saturday declared Rs.20 million worth of moveable and immovable assets, including those of his wife, according to an affidavit filed by him

(Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind…)
Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal Saturday declared Rs.20 million worth of moveable and immovable assets, including those of his wife, according to an affidavit filed by him
Aam Aadmi Party convener Arvind Kejriwalhas declared assets worth Rs 93 lakh and liablity of Rs 23,550 of unpaid electricity bills.
Kejriwal, who filed his nominations today from New Delhi assembly constituency, has declared in his affidavit along with the nomination papers, that he has moveable assets which includes cash-in-hand and bank deposits worth Rs 1.6 lakh.
He has immovabale properties, land in Indirapuram in Uttar Pradesh's Ghaziabad district and ancestral agricultural land at Shivani village in Haryana's Karnal district.
Kejriwal's income in 2012-13 was just Rs 2.05 lakh while his wife Sunita's was Rs 9.8 lakh. She owns a flat in Gurgaon worth Rs One crore and she has moveable property of Rs 16.8 lakh.
She has a house loan liability of Rs 30 lakh and loan from relatives Rs 11 lakh.
Kejriwal's colleague Manish Sisodia, who is contesting from Patparganj assembly Constituency, has Rs 16 lakh worth of property.
He owns a flat in Ghaziabad's Vasundhara worth Rs 12 lakh and has moveable property (cash and bank deposit) worth Rs 3.8 lakh. His income was Rs 5.2 lakh only for the year 2012-13.
Sisodia's wife owns a flat in Delhi's Pandav Nagar locality, which is worth Rs 20 lakh and has movebale property worth 5.17 lakh.
Both Kejriwal and Sisodia have liablities of due electricity bills, while Sisodia's wife has liablities of due electricity bills of Rs 13,700 and water bill of Rs 5,854.
Kejriwal has a due electricity bill of Rs 23,550 while Sisodia has Rs 17,000 due in this head.
Source :  By PTI

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Great rural land rush: 3 to 100-fold rise in property prices may not bode well

Great rural land rush: 3 to 100-fold rise in property prices may not bode well

Prices of agricultural land have risen by anywhere between three-fold and 100-fold. This is the beginning of a new phase in India’s agricultural land markets

Prices of agricultural land have risen by anywhere between three-fold and 100-fold. This is the beginning of a new phase in India’s agricultural land markets

For the longest time, the price of farmland in Vadicherla stayed below Rs 20,000 an acre. Ten years ago, that began to change. "In 2003, an acre cost Rs 25,000. By 2006-07, it had climbed to Rs 2 lakh," says Byru Veeraiah, sarpanch of this village in Andhra Pradesh's Mehbubnagar district."By 2010, an acre cost Rs 3 lakh. And Rs 12 lakh by 2012."

It was a puzzling spike. This village, with 700-odd families, is nowhere near large cities. Warangal, the nearest large town, is 100 km away. The Vijayawada-Hyderabad highway is a good 15 km away. No farmland in the village or its vicinity was being bought by the government or companies.

Vadicherla is not alone. In 10 years, the price of an acre in Ramavarapadu, a village next to Vijayawada, has leapt from Rs 7 lakh to Rs 7 crore. Or take Mardi, 15 km off Solapur, Maharashtra. The price of an acre in this village, says Prakash Arjun Kate, a local, has "climbed from Rs 20,000-25,000 ten years ago to Rs 10 lakh now." Ramavarapadu, Vadicherla and Mardi are not isolated instances. Microstudies and anecdotal information on 68 villages in seven states gathered by ET suggest a lot of rural India is seeing a similar climb in farmland prices (See graphic), primarily because of highways, investors and urbanisation.

Great rural land rush: 3 to 100-fold rise in property prices may not bode well

"This is true for almost all of India, perhaps barring only the north-east and Kashmir," says RS Deshpande, former director of Bangalore's Institute for Social and Economic Change(ISEC).

A Trinity Converges 

For the longest time, farmland markets were comatose. Land ceiling laws, designed to prevent concentration of land ownership, were one reason. Another reason, as academic Sanjoy Chakravorty writes in 'The Price of Land: Acquisition, Conflict, Consequence', his book on land acquisition in India, was the limited reason to buy land. He writes: "If land's value is a measure of its future income, and if the future use is not dramatically different from its current use, a sale is possible only if a buyer's evaluation of the discounted future income stream is more than the buyer's valuation of the same."

The wheels are turning faster on both counts. New buyers, with a different assessment of value, are entering the market. In Vadicherla, for instance, says sarpanch Veeraiah, "people from Hyderabad, Warangal and NRIs are buying land." At the point where the road to the village meets the Suryapet-Warangal road, investors from Suryapet have marked plots to build houses, and are waiting for buyers to come. In Ramavarapdu, outsiders are building four- and five-floor apartment blocks on what used to be farmland.

Elsewhere, investors are converting agricultural land into commercial use. Or, they are just holding on to it, waiting for its value to appreciate to offload it in the market.

The resultant spike in farmland prices is leaving its imprimatur on rural India. It is giving farmers seeking to leave agriculture an exit option. It is also pulling an unknown quantum of land out of agriculture. As land rates rise, farmers are unable to buy farmland in their own villages. As such, it is reshaping the ownership of land. And it's all coming about because a trinity is converging on it—investors looking to buy, farmers looking to exit agriculture, and politicians and their associates looking to create a marketplace for such transactions.

A Shiny New Investment

Investor interest in farmland can be traced back to two factors. First, says Gaurav Jain, a real estate professional who worked with Emaar and DLF before setting up his own consultancy, Samyak Properties & Infrastructure, liberalisation boosted job creation and incomes, and increased demand for housing.

Second, as Chakravorty writes, till the mid-1990s, almost all house purchases were in cash. Around 2000, the housing market in credit began to grow. That, he writes, "brought very large numbers of new housing consumers into the market".

This has pushed up land prices. Indian cities, notes Chakravorty, wary of congestion, have kept floor space index (FSI)—a measure of how much can be built on a plot of land—low. Unhappy with the combination of limited (and costly) undeveloped space and low FSI in cities, builders began looking towards the periphery.

So did buyers. "The rule of thumb used in much of the developed world is that a family cannot afford a home whose price is three to four times the family's annual income," writes Chakravorty. In cities like Mumbai, he notes, a family with a per capita income of Rs 60,000 will take 100 years to buy a 800 sq ft house. As both builders and buyers move to the periphery, and beyond it to towns and villages, their demand is pushing up prices of farmland at a rate faster than traditional financial and real assets (See graphic).

Farmland has even outperformed investments in urban property. Says Pran Khanna, a Delhi-based consultant to companies: "A Rs 50 crore investment in a south Delhi house will climb to maybe Rs 55 crore in five years." In contrast, as Mardi and Vadicherla show, returns can be exponential.

Pure agricultural land, adds Jain, appreciates faster. "It has fewer encumbrances— like pre-existing structures." This is resulting in land being bought and left fallow.

This has created a second set of buyers: investors. The average buyer, says Jain, is "someone who is over 40, kids educated, has a house and is wondering what to do with surplus cash." Seeing the escalation in land values in peri-urban areas, people began buying land even far from cities, reasoning they would make a killing once the city expanded. Similarly, businessmen, in small towns like Suryapet, knowing they could not buy land near big cities, began buying land in their own peripheries. Their bet: rates can only rise—as population rises, land will only get more scarce.

A Ticket Out of Agriculture

These buyers are finding willing sellers in farmers. "In rural areas, agriculture is not the most important component any longer," says Ramesh Chand, director of National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research (NCAP). "It now accounts, as per NSSO numbers, for just 33% of the rural economy."

From his office in Hyderabad, CS Reddy, the founder of APMAS, a Hyderabad-based organisation that advises SHG (self-help group) organisations, has been watching investors flock to buy farmland. "In the last 10 years, we have seen a lot of farmers become wage labourers," he says. "This is not only because they sold their land out of distress. Some of them are starting to feel they are better off working as labour than putting money into farming, with its uncertain returns."

A small farmer with an acre of land will get 30 bags of paddy. At Rs 2,000 each, that's a gross income of Rs 60,000. But net of costs, his net income will probably be closer to Rs 20,000. Even this is subject to weather risk—and price risk for crops not supported by minimum assured government prices. Says Deshpande of ISEC: "The 59th NSSO report asked farmers if they wanted to leave agriculture. 40% said 'yes'." That was in 2002. Since then, the drift has only continued.

A Source Of Political Rent

Politicians, who created a market out of matching buyers and sellers, opened a third flank. In the last 10 years, the cost of fighting elections has shot up, and politicians are using the land boom to subsidise their campaigns.

Anil Patil, the Shiv Sena MLA in Madha constituency of Maharashtra, explains the arithmetic, which makes a mockery of election-spending rules. "In 2009, an MLA spent Rs 10 crore on campaigning," he says. "In 2014, they will probably spend Rs 20 crore. This means an MLA needs to raise at least Rs 30 crore during his five-year stint." Political parties face a similar arithmetic. They need to, says Patil, "fund at least half the campaign expenses of their MLAs and MPs so that they stay loyal to the party."

Besides parking their own money in land, politicians, through associates, are making a killing by positioning themselves in between real estate companies and the state. What unlocks the value of farmland is change of land use, clearing it for non-agricultural use— like commercial or residential.

According to Patil, the region between Pune, Nashik, Mumbai, Thane and Raigad is seeing a real estate boom. Here, he says, politicians either buy the land—through middlemen—from farmers and sell it to builders. Or, they charge a commission for land-use change. This money is then used to buy land elsewhere. Land in Madha that used to cost Rs 50,000 an acre in 2005-06, adds Patil, now costs Rs 15 lakh.

Several moves by the state government have given such forces a larger market to play in. For instance, Haryana has relaxed land ceiling laws for non-agricultural owners. Others have made it easier for outsiders to acquire tribal or Dalit land. They are also expanding urban limits. Haryana, for instance, says Jain, has added 30,000 acres to the urban area of Gurgaon.

The Meaning Of It All

Besides a reduction in the area under agriculture (See box), the farmland boom is propelling some fundamental shifts. For example, how farmers perceive the value of their land. A farmer, having heard about another farmer selling his land for Rs 80 lakh an acre, will not settle for anything less.

Chakravorty feels India is now "permanently in a new land price regime". "The tipping point has come from the expansion of money supply in India— black, white and foreign," he writes. In contrast, Himanshu, a professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, thinks this is a bubble. Most buyers, he says, are investors. "Are there are enough people willing to buy at the price these people want to sell?" he asks.

Over time, Himanshu says, as prices keep rising, the market will shrink to a small number of actors transacting among each other. This will trigger a correction and a return to the rubric of three to four times annual income. "While prices can stay high for some time, the moment one farmer sells at a lower rate, the buyers' expectations will fall, and that will be the end of the boom," he adds.

In peri-urban areas, land is being bought by people who already know what use they want to put it to. Deeper, however, people are buying land and letting it lie fallow. This is what is happening in villages like Vadicherla. Places deep in the hinterland, feels Himanshu, are likely to attract predominantly black money. "If the money being put into land is illegally sourced, it can be parked here and good as forgotten," he says. "But if the land is credit-linked, the owner will need to see returns before long."

In the interim, farmers are facing reduced affordability of agricultural land in their own villages, especially in peri-urban areas, which tend to have a high number of buyers and sellers. For example, in Yeshwanthapur, a village between Janagaon and Warangal, a private organisation has bought about 100 acres of land for a golf club. The sarpanch of the village, Clemenca Reddy, says her cousins and her family together sold "about 30 acres of land at Rs 9 lakh per acre."

Her family went 20 km away and bought 25 acres there for Rs 40,000-50,000 an acre. Another villager in Yeshwanthapur, Botla Narsaiah, has a different story. A small farmer with just 2.5 acres, he sold it all in batches to first fund the construction of a house and then to get his daughters married. He is now working as a labourer, making Rs 2,000 a month. "Even far off the highway, land now costs Rs 4 lakh. We cannot afford it," he says.

Human Costs

There are human costs too. In villages, youngsters will want the family to sell the land and start a new business instead. In 'Land Alienation and Local Communities', a paper published in the Economic & Political Weekly in 2007, V Ratna Reddy and B Suresh Reddy studied the impact of urbanisation and land sales in four villages near Hyderabad. They found traditional rural occupations were being replaced by newer ones -- construction contractors,real estate broking, driving auto rickshaws, petty business, etc.

Yet others are seeing this as their ticket out of agriculture. In areas near Vijayawada, reports S Ananth, a Hyderabad-based independent researcher studying rural change, "several farmers near Vijayawada have sold their land and bought apartments. They are now living on rental income." Adds S Malla Reddy, national vice-president of a CPI (M) organisation working on peasant issues: "Due to high prices in villages, villagers are now investing in open plots (real estate ventures) in towns nearby."

In villages, as land prices rise, there will be a concentration of land ownership. Says Chand of NCAP, the country will see a rise in absentee landlordism. This has implications for food production: sharecroppers struggle to improve productivity of their lands.

India will also see, says Deshpande of ISEC, "the rise of a white-collared cultivating class. They are better educated and will participate better in markets." JA Chowdary, chairman of an IT company called Talent Sprint, typifies that. Over the past 10 years, his family has bought 200 acres of farmland in Andhra's Ananthapur district at Rs 30,000 per acre. Most of them, feels Himanshu, will grow higher value plantations crops. Chowdary is growing mangoes and pomegranates.

All this will strain food security and prices further. "Fifty years ago, Pune's vegetables came from nearby places like Haveli and Purender," says Patil. "Now, they come from as far as Satara and Kolhapur." Agrees Himanshu: "In the next 10 years, the number of people leaving agriculture will rise. Cropping intensity, too, will have to go up."

With inputs from Rajireddy Kesireddy

Source : Rajireddy Kesireddy, By , ET Bureau

How IITianDeepinder Goyal’s Zomato entered into the Rs 1,000-crore club

How IITian Deepinder Goyal’s Zomato entered into the Rs 1,000-crore club

Zomato, started in Deepinder Goyal’s home, went into the Rs 1,000-crore club the day he became a dad. Here’s the story of India’s hottest start-up.        How IITian Goyal’s Zomato entered the Rs 1,000-cr club

Zomato, started in Deepinder Goyal’s home, went into the Rs 1,000-crore club the day he became a dad. Here’s the story of India’s hottest start-up.

On the morning of 29 October, from about 9 am, Deepinder Goyal sat outside the labour ward in the corridors of the Max Hospital in Gurgaon, signing on dotted lines that his lawyers pointed him to.

His wife went into early labour the previous night and they had driven to the hospital. But he couldn't avoid work. His company was closing a new round of funding and as CEO and founder, his signatures couldn't be done without. So he had asked his colleagues to come to the hospital.

By 10:30 am, his undivided attention was called for inside as his wife went into labour. At 11:50 am, the 30-yearold engineer held his firstborn child — Siara, a baby girl — in his arms. At half past noon, he stepped out and turned his mobile phone back on.

Some colleagues were waiting with the final set of papers. He placed a bag on the nurse's counter for want of a table in the corridor and signed off on a major investment into his company.

The deal valued Zomato, the company he started in his bedroom four years ago, at Rs 1,006 crore ($161 million).

The founders' equity — the stake held by him, his co-founder and some employees — was now worth Rs 328 crore.

That morning, he became a father, and by the reckoning of some — particularly his investors Info Edge and Sequoia Capital — the entrepreneur best positioned to build a formidable global internet company out of India.

Zomato, if you have not used it yet, is a restaurant discovery website and mobile app. It lists information on restaurants — menus, photos, reviews curated for credibility and contact info — for 180,500 restaurants in 36 cities. It is currently in 11 countries (including India) and plans to be in 22 new countries in the next two years. The current round of funding is meant to bankroll this expansion.

It makes its money from ads restaurants place on their pages. Restaurants advertise withZomato because of better targeting. They can pay only to be displayed when someone is searching for a location — 'Colaba', for instance — and further narrow it to be displayed only for 'take outs in Colaba'.

Goyal says revenues are now hitting Rs 3 crore each month — on an average, 35% of revenue is from overseas markets. All the money comes from the website. They are yet to start monetising the popular mobile app.

Deepinder Goyal and Pankaj Chaddah started Zomato (Foodiebay, in an earlier avatar) while still working as consultants at Bain & Co in Delhi. By the latter half of 2009, the website gained some traction and user feedback was excellent.

With Rs 1k cr, He’s Food for Everyone’s ThoughtGoyal decided to give it a good shot and quit his job the day his wife, a Mathematics PhD, got a teaching job at Delhi University. Chaddah, younger to Goyal by two years, followed a few days later.

Even though they had both attended IIT Delhi (Goyal studied math and computer science, Chaddah graduated in mechanical engineering), they had only met at Bain. Both told their parents about their decision to quit only after actually quitting — that way there was no room for being talked out of it.

Among Foodiebay's growing throng of users was Sanjeev Bikhchandani, the founder of He liked the service. His company, Info Edge India Ltd, put in $1 million in seed funding early on, in August 2010. The

company funded Zomato through four subsequent rounds, cumulatively investing $25.4 million. It now owns a 50.1% stake in Zomato.

Startup valuation is nearly as controversial as the Narendra Modi versus Rahul Gandhi pitch in an election year. Unsurprisingly, there are some who think that Zomato's current valuation is completely unjustified. "It's a completely cuckoo valuation.

An investor who has entered will be looking to exit at three times the valuation in a few years. Can Zomato get a valuation of Rs 3,000 crore in a few years? And who would the buyer be? Yelp? Would Yelp or someone else pay half a billion dollars for a company that didn't even make $2 million in the latest fiscal? Perhaps, but only if the greater fool theory holds. I don't think that's likely though," said Mahesh Murthy, an investor and outspoken critic of sky-high valuations for other tech companies such as Flipkart.

But there is no sure way of valuing a startup and big bets on companies with little revenue have paid off on occasion. Zomato clocked revenue of Rs 11.5 crore for the fiscal ended March 2013, up from Rs 2 crore the previous year. According to Goyal, this year, it is expected to clock Rs 30-40 crore in sales.

If you take Rs 11.5 crore as revenue, Zomato's valuation is a multiple of nearly 100 to sales. If you take the latest monthly revenue and annualise it to assume revenue of Rs 40 crore during the current fiscal, the valuation is a multiple of 25 to sales.

"Young companies like Zomato don't get valued solely based on revenue multiples,"Mohit Bhatnagar, the Sequoia MD who handled the Zomato investment, told ET. "The product is world class and we have conviction in the founders. Deepinder is probably as good a founder as anyone anywhere in the world. It is the first Indian consumer internet company with global aspirations and that is the single-biggest excitement for us."

Goyal doesn't have to worry about the debate over valuation just now. He says a 25x valuation is par for the course for a fast-growing consumer internet company like his. At any rate, he says he can grow the revenue manifold if he can expand his sales team. "Our space utilisation is currently just 20%. We need to hire 400 sales people in India alone to exploit our ad real estate."

He recognises that growth from India will likely plateau at some point. But then there is the whole world, and then, the holy grail of the business — the US market. So far, his international foray has been encouraging.

In the UAE, where the company launched last year, it is already profitable operationally. In most other markets, there is no serious competition and the product is loved in every new market it launches in. In Indonesia, Portugal and Turkey, Zomato speaks the local language.

Zomato's moment of reckoning will come when it comes head to head with Yelp, the listing and recommendation service that is popular in the major western markets. Its IPO last year valued Yelp at $1.5 billion.

In the UK, where Yelp has been around for much longer, Zomato is now number 2. In New Zealand, where Yelp is six months old and Zomato just two, according to Goyal, Zomato gets more users than all of Yelp's categories put together (While Zomato only does restaurants, Yelp does local search and recommendations across categories).

So he is confident of his product for all markets but the US. Zomato's performance in the US will determine whether it can hit the global big league or not. Revenue potential in the US is bigger than the combined potential of all the 33 markets Zomato plans to be in, put together. Goyal says the company will spend time fine-tuning the product for a US launch.

"We will probably also need to raise more money for a US launch," he said. Goyal is soft-spoken and unassuming. But when he speaks about his business and his learnings, you get a glimpse into an unswerving focus and clarity of thought that forms the philosophical core of Zomato's growth.

A couple of years ago, the company expanded into two other verticals — ticketing for events and helping restaurants market themselves through digital and social media platforms. "We started doing everything badly.

So then we decided to shut down those businesses and just focus on the one thing users loved and do it very well," Goyal says. But he also turned necessity into a virtue. He used the staff that became redundant to expand overseas.

"It was not their fault that our strategy was poor. So, instead of letting them go for no fault of theirs, we sent them to Dubai to grow our business there." And that worked for the company, proving that the product was ready for overseas markets.

Goyal says success hasn't changed him or his co-founder significantly. "That comes with having been friends first. We can yell at each other and it won't really matter."

Source : By , ET Bureau

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