Palatial Indo-French design-inspired boutique seven-star rooms, luxury staycays with majestic interiors on the second and third floor, ‘industrial kitchens’ on the fourth floor, a designer studio, banquet hall or a fitness club in the basement — a walk into a ‘residential’ four-floor-plus-stilt house in Gurgaon is no less than a luxury ‘mini-mall’. This residential house is right in the middle of a posh residential locality which was a quiet one with families a few years ago.
A 360-square yard house that was initially meant to have one family supporting maximum three to four air conditioners and seven to eight fans, today houses 28 rooms with 28 air conditioners, more than 20 geysers and 54 fans. The same site that was to accommodate two to three cars today houses 10 to 12 cars today —which can’t be accommodated in the stilt. And the spillover has come on the narrow road. Reason: Converting the independent plots into apartments and then commercialising them rampantly.
The Indian Express took a round of posh localities in Gurgaon where almost every other house has been under construction to be built into a four-storey house plus stilt.
From outside, the four-storey apartment houses looked normal where families stay on rent, but a walk inside these in sectors 46, 52, Sushant Lok, 45 revealed how commercial activities were going on rampantly inside — to which officials seemed to have turned a blind eye.
A plush entrance welcomes you with two staff members greeting and asking which room you prefer. “We have normal rooms starting at Rs 2,000 a night that includes breakfast and wi-fi and then we have executive suites starting at Rs 2,500 onwards which goes up to Rs 6,000. Which one would you prefer?” the staff asked, adding that the buffet comprises four to five dishes, including continental and Indian menu.
When told that the room would be taken later, a business card was handed out for availability of rooms. And all of this on residential electricity metres, residential tax and not commercial. This is the state of every four-plus-stilt basement house. As many as nine cars were parked together inside and on the pavement outside belonging to this 360-square-yard house in Sector 46.
A walk through the residential sectors 46, 51, 52, 56, 45, Sushant Lok showed how rampantly the single units were being converted into these houses where gyms, banquet halls, industrial kitchens, play schools, billiard lounges, salons, guest houses, fitness clubs, hotels — all on Air BnBs were running in the basements and the rooms above, designer studios in the other and what not. All this right in the middle of the residential locality.
Ashish Garg, a resident of Sector 46 who has seen Gurgaon growing in front of her eyes, said, “Residents feel cheated as they were given these plots saying it was a residential area but now all of them have commercial businesses running.” “We paid extra for our plot in Sector 46 about more than two decades back. We feel cheated as we were given the plot by HUDA that this is a residential belt. Out of 12 houses in a street, guest houses, banquets, industrial kitchens are running from eight houses. There are 28 rooms in one 360-square-yard house today,” she said. “Is the infrastructure even built up for that?
“They may have taken the permission for four-storey structures but the greed doesn’t stop there. Where it was supposed to be a stilt parking, there is a reception there along with board rooms, conference rooms. Then the stilt is being used for banquet halls for weddings, the first and second floors are given for hotel rooms. Then there are rooms given on other floors for seven industrial kitchens. The stay is either month-wise and day-wise here. It is absolute nuisance to which these officials aren’t listening for reasons best known to them,” Garg said.
Garg explained that industrial gensets installed outside are a reflection of everything going on inside. She added, “As a resident, can you handle this situation when people are coming and going in adjacent houses and industrial gensets are installed right outside? It is an absolute hazard for elderly. No one can even walk here. And the same has been done on a 200-square-yard plot too. I would say it is with the connivance of the authorities that all of this nuisance is going on.”
Garg said approximately of the 3,000 plots in the sector, almost 1,700 have been converted into guest houses, that too when this sector falls in the sesmic zone 5. “This sector was initially made to house 6,000 people and today there are over 20,000. It is all illegal. Who has given permission to convert these entire residential houses into commercial outlets?” she asked.
Not just Sector 46, the posh Sushant Lok too is not the one it used to be — with every single independent house being converted into a four-storey-plus-stilt basement house. For example, a locality with 11 houses there had almost nine of them converted or were under construction into four-plus-stilt- basement houses.
In some cases, the construction of one floor having three or four rooms has been done in a way that one room-plus-kitchenette for one couple has been separated from other rooms with a shared kitchen on the other, so as to house several people or couples at a time on one floor itself. Similar thing has been done on the other three floors, most of which has been given on Air BnB and rental staycays. As for the stilt housing the car parking, even this space falls short due the excessive load of visitors/ individuals occupying the house. resulting which others have to park on the footpath outside blocking the narrow lanes.
Money-making game
The price range of getting “one posh room service apartment” on one of the floors begins from Rs 2,600 a night and for the plush ones, it goes up to Rs 5,900 a night as well. With washrooms offering jacuzzi, bathrobes, smart TVs for the guests allowing access to Netflix and Amazon Prime the day you check in and the room with majestic interior is stocked up with arabica bean coffee, gourmet coffee and tea in the pantry, the ‘residential apartment’-turned-five star hotel room offers it all.
The rooms offer different price ranges to ‘foreign visitors’ coming to Gurgaon which ranges from $25 to $83. “It is like mini-malls constructed in every house with multiple businesses going on. People are earning Rs 6 lakh to 7 lakh monthly from this business with profit shares of investors. They keep one security guard and staff that takes care of the entire building. Mostly, it is the big businessmen or the builder mafia who have invested in the houses with builders then developing the same amidst the residential locality,” a 76- year-old resident who stays with his wife in Sector 45, Gurgaon, said on condition of anonymity.
“It is absolute nuisance throughout the day. All of them are on Airbnb and outsiders grossly invade on our privacy as well. I can’t even go for a walk outside my house because there are outsiders all over. And whenever there is this routine check, the officials come to us saying if anyone asks about the neighbouring house or the one in front, just say it has been given on rent to families,” he added.
Risking structural stability
Professor Ajay Duggal from National Institute of Technical Teachers Training and Research told The Indian Express that the rampant constructions are putting the structural stability of nearby houses at huge risk.
“When you carry out excavation for the basement of one house, the soil below and around existing adjacent foundation loosens up and loss of support takes place. Thus, existing building differential settlement takes place. This would further result in stresses that cause severe cracking in building walls and cause distress at joints. It can also cause damage to services of public health. Once you have dug up the basement, you have in a way finished the side support of the adjacent house. The support of the existing soil should not be loosened up,” Professor Duggal said.
He added, “There can be serious damage to water, sewer pipelines as far as damage to public health services is concerned. Riskier is the cracks in the adjacent houses the way they have appeared in Panchkula houses when neighbours made four-plus-basement concept.”
Differential settlement refers to the distortion or disruption of parts of a building due to unequal compression of its foundations or undue loads being applied to the building after its initial construction. Professor Sarita Singla from Department of Civil Engineering Punjab Engineering College, Sector 12, Chandigarh, echoed similar views.
“When excavation is carried out to dig up the basement of a house and the foundation of neighbouring houses is at upper level then a situation of foundation settlement of the neighbouring houses will prevail, risking the structure of the neighbouring houses. Foundation settlement is settlement of the foundation due to settlement of the soil below. This happens when the load on the soil exceeds bearing capacity of the soil,” Professor Singla said.
Increasing burden on civic infrastructure
Ritu Bhariok, advocate and legal adviser who is working for Justice for Home Buyers in Gurgaon, has a question for the authorities: If permissions were given, has there been any enhancement in the civic infrastructure which is being exceedingly burdened with the overflow of multiple guests or visitors, or businesses going on in one residential house?
“Where in the master plan is it written to commercialise the entire residential area inside? Are there any checks by the department concerned? And then what is the use of having a separate commercial and industrial area then? Better to have industries also here in the residential area itself. It is a constant nuisance and needs to be checked. You never know which crowd is moving. Every place is being converted into commercial one. Interestingly, some even in front of the police posts,” she told The Indian Express.
What do figures say?
According to sources in the Haryana government’s Town and Country Planning Department, approvals to 12,000 sites ( meaning 48,000 floors plus 12,000 basements) were given in the last three years of which almost 82 per cent — that is nearly 10,000 sites ( 40,000 floor wise plus 10,000 basements) — were approved in Gurgaon and the remaining in Faridabad.
These sites were approved in the last three years, that is 2020, 2021 and 2022. Sources stated that almost over 10,000 more such conversions were on the cards which now have been stalled for the moment.
A senior officer of the department said “it is the need of the hour”. “But these approvals have been given due to the changing demographics of the city. You need to see that it is the need of the hour. People are moving from villages to urban areas and they can’t afford it.” He said that “those fighting for the cause cannot see that ample parking space has been created”.
Plea of medical tourism
Justifying the plea of having basement plus four floors concept in Gurgaon, the officer added that Gurgaon sees medical tourism as well because of big hospitals.
“You have big hospitals in Gurgaon and there are so many people who come from not just within the country but overseas as well. They can’t afford these big hotels and want these nominal guest rooms only as they fall well within their pockets,” the officer added.
‘Need funds for infrastructure’
Gurgaon MLA Sudhir Singla while speaking to The Indian Express stated that he had spoken to the Haryana Chief Minister allowing the four plus stilt concept and at the same time giving funds for increasing the infrastructure too. “I had suggested to the Chief Minister that the construction shouldn’t be stopped and it should be allowed. However, I also said that they should give more funds for enhancing the infrastructure since there is exceeding burden on sewerage, provision of water to everyone and other civic amenities,” he said.
When told that multiple businesses were running from the apartments, he replied, “That is absolutely wrong and that shouldn’t be allowed. The enforcement team should take strict note of that.”
Delhi-based builders working in Gurgaon’
Local BJP councillor Mahesh Dayma while speaking to The Indian Express said that “it is absolutely a catch 22 situation” and Delhi-based builders “are working at a very large scale”.
“In fact, these builders have moved to Gurgaon and working at a large scale. Now the kothi concept has ended and people are preferring to give property floor-wise and they make money almost four times more than what they were making by selling one independent plot. It is definitely a lot of burden on sewerage, parking and other civic infrastructure,” he said, adding that “however now the rates of such plots will automatically come down considering the government putting on hold the policy and discouraging the four-plus-stilt concept since not many buyers would come forward”.
Manmohan Lal Sarin, lawyer who represented the Chandigarh case of apartmentalisation, said: “The issue is about converting the plotted area that was meant to be for low-rise buildings and now huge apartments stand there. Because eventually it will ruin the entire infrastructure — there is going to be pressure on the sewage, water, everything. It should be allowed only in areas wherein the existing infrastructure is designed in a way to accommodate high-rise buildings.”
What Supreme Court said
The Supreme Court in its order related to ban on apartmentalisation in first 30 sectors of Chandigarh had specified that “it is necessary that a proper balance is struck between sustainable development and environmental protection” and “we therefore appeal to the Legislature, the Executive and the policy makers at the Centre as well as at the state levels to make necessary provisions for carrying out Environmental Impact Assessment studies before permitting urban development”.
In its 131-page verdict that it announced during the ban on apartmentalization, the apex court ruled “that it is high time that the legislature, the executive and the policy makers at the Centre as well as the state levels take note of the damage to the environment on account of haphazard developments and take a call to take necessary measures to ensure that the development does not damage the environment”. The bench made this observation while freezing the increasing floor-area ratio that was being done to accommodate these builders.
‘This mess needs to be stopped’
Reacting to the rampant commercialisation with multiple businesses running from one residential plot that has been converted into four floors plus basement, Haryana Speaker Gian Chand Gupta stated, “This misuse needs to be stopped. Glaring violations are taking place in this garb of four floors plus stilt concept.”
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engineer sydneyHina RohtakiHina Rohtaki is a Special Correspondent with The Indian Express, Chand… read more