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Government housing gets makeover

Last updated on: December 1, 2010 14:21 IST

Government housing gets makeover

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Ruchika Chitravanshi in New Delhi

Rani Sinha appears thrilled. Normally government officers detest shifting house, which comes with their job, as they get transferred from one place to another. But Sinha, joint secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, cannot wait to shift.

That's not merely because her next shift is scheduled to be in the same city, New Delhi. It is also because her next house will be in a complex that will usher in a new era in government housing.

"My heartiest congratulations for giving government servants wonderful, thoughtful and contemporary housing," Sinha wrote in the visitors' book on her visit to the Netaji Nagar complex in South Delhi in mid-November.

That last bit she mentioned - contemporary - has been a perennial wish of government servants.

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Government housing constitutes a very attractive element of their compensation. It is invariably in a coveted location. If the rank is senior enough, the area is ample. There is often a garden, too.

But the house per se is old as well as old-fashioned. The occupants wouldn't be chary of calling them "sad and dilapidated". There is space, a lot of it, but much of it is just there and not of much use.

The under-construction complex at Netaji Nagar near Moti Bagh, which is under construction, will change that. It will have bungalows and flats for top bureaucrats, judges and ministers, which will be, above all, modern.

"The new project will bring down some pressure on the general pool residential accommodation," says Vishnu P Das, chairman and managing director of the National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC), an arm of the Urban Development Ministry, which is executing the project.

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It will do more than that. Power Secretary P Umashankar, who now lives near the Lodhi Garden, which is as prime a location as any you can find, believes that the new complex easily scores over the old ones.

"They (NBCC) have taken into consideration the views of the housewives, which makes a lot of difference to the house. It is more spacious and better planned, making space for modern amenities like washing machine, microwave, computers, laptops, etc, which were not in vogue back when the old houses were constructed.

The size of the rooms may be smaller, but there are more rooms, which makes for greater utility. I am sure the upkeep will also be better."

The new houses also have a lounge area, the latest bathroom fittings, and ample parking. And Jairam Ramesh will have little cause to complain.

"We have designed the houses such that a lot of the trees didn't have to be cut and were made a part of the layout," says Das.

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The architects - NBCC and Axis Consultants - have taken care to ensure that the occupants of the new complex do not entirely miss the old housing.

Each bungalow will be painted in white and have a dome-like structure right in the middle of the roof, a hallmark of Lutyens' Delhi.

The surrounding has ample green cover - about seven acres of forest land and sprawling gardens and lawns, where it is easy to catch a muster of peacocks at play.

A total of 492 houses are being constructed in the Netaji Nagar campus, including bungalows and flats, which are divided into eight categories.

The highest, Type VIII, consists of 14 bungalows with four bedrooms, kitchen, two dining rooms, a garage, servant quarters, office space and a family lounge. These are for ministers of state.

The Type VII, two-storey houses with four bedrooms, are for the secretaries, the top layer of the bureaucracy. Type VI, three-bedroom sets are for the next rung: Additional and joint secretaries.

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It's not a surprise, then, that the visitors' book is full of positive comments. For instance, Arun K Panda, joint secretary in the department of health and family welfare, says the place is excellent and would cater to the needs of the family.

However, Sinha, Panda and others will have to wait a while longer; the new complex is expected to be ready only by March next year, five months later than the original deadline.

The government provided the land for the project: 123 acre. For funds, NBCC came up with a plan. Under the Master Plan for Delhi, 10 per cent of the land can be set aside for commercial purposes.

So, NBCC auctioned 10 per cent of the land and got a whopping Rs 611 crore (Rs 6.11 billion) from the Leela Hotels. The timing of the auction helped. It took place in April 2007, when real estate prices were soaring.

The amount exceeded the expectations of the construction company as well as the Rs 433 crore (Rs 4.33 billion) that the Netaji Nagar complex was expected to cost.

It's not a surprise, then, that the visitors' book is full of positive comments. For instance, Arun K Panda, joint secretary in the department of health and family welfare, says the place is excellent and would cater to the needs of the family.

However, Sinha, Panda and others will have to wait a while longer; the new complex is expected to be ready only by March next year, five months later than the original deadline.

The government provided the land for the project: 123 acre. For funds, NBCC came up with a plan. Under the Master Plan for Delhi, 10 per cent of the land can be set aside for commercial purposes.

So, NBCC auctioned 10 per cent of the land and got a whopping Rs 611 crore (Rs 6.11 billion) from the Leela Hotels. The timing of the auction helped. It took place in April 2007, when real estate prices were soaring.

The amount exceeded the expectations of the construction company as well as the Rs 433 crore (Rs 4.33 billion) that the Netaji Nagar complex was expected to cost.

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The cost estimate has gone up to Rs 500 crore (Rs 5 billion). However, the Leela deal will still leave some surplus, which, according to NBCC officials, will be invested in some other project by the government.

Incidentally, another complex, similar to that in Netaji Nagar, is slated to come up in the Kidwai Nagar in New Delhi, which will cater to secretary- and joint secretary-level officers.

But this one would be trickier. Work on this, again by NBCC, is scheduled on begin in August next year.

"Unlike Moti Bagh, which had forest area and some NDMC flats, the Kidwai Nagar area already has a lot of residential facilities and a primary school, which will have to be demolished and alternative arrangements will have to be made," said Das.

Surveys are also being conducted in the Seva Nagar area for a similar complex.

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