November 27, 2006

Mall space dealers reap sealing profits

Jaswinder Singh Chauhan’s face breaks into a broad smile as he greets potential clients coming in thick and fast to his real estate firm in South Extension and willing to pay more than ever. The despair of traders struggling to save their illegal establishments from being sealed can only be matched by the delight of those selling floor space in malls to those who have given up the fight. “Malls in and around Delhi have never had it better,” Chauhan said. Floor space in malls in Gurgaon now costs more than two times it did four months ago. Before the sealing drive began in July, a square foot in a Delhi mall cost between Rs 10,000 and 12,000, depending on which floor the slot was on and the proximity to escalators. Now it costs between Rs 25,000 and 30,000, said Ranjeet Kumar, a Gurgaon-based real estate agent. As the sealing began, the rates rose slowly, climbing to Rs 15,000 a square foot by August. With the Supreme Court appearing to allow the Centre’s attempt to stop sealing through the Delhi Special Laws Act, a brief period in August saw a fall to the old rates as traders stayed away from the expensive malls. However, the court later made it clear that it would not allow the illegal establishments to continue . The capital, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi has told a series of committees, has commercial complexes to accommodate one lakh est-ablishments. But at least two lakh traders were illeg-ally operating out of resi- dential areas. So malls — both existing and upcoming, like the one in the south and another in the west — are the only option for those looking to shift. “The sealing started with big traders in posh A and B category colonies. These are also the people who can afford to shift to malls,” Chauhan said. Many who bought space at one or the other of the eight malls in Delhi at comparatively cheap rates when they came up — around Rs 8,000 a square foot a year ago — are now selling their slots for three times the money they had paid. But not all mall owners are happy. Randhir Rajput, who wants to sell his 40-square-foot space in a Saket mall, fears his business prospects may be hit by the “threat from the east”. He is not referring to China but to the east of Delhi in Noida, where five malls are coming up, offering space much cheaper at Rs 10,000 a square foot. People who have to shift offices, and not shops, and do not mind the extra travel, may move to Noida, he worries.