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Rs 400-crore bungalows: Where billionaires live!

Last updated on: April 27, 2011 08:17 IST

Rs 400-crore bungalows: Where billionaires live!

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Bhupesh Bhandari in New Delhi


When Ghanshyam Das Birla built a house at Albuquerque Road, and invited Mahatma Gandhi to live in it, little could he have imagined that one day it would be called Tees January Marg.

Home to Birla House, Gandhi Smriti, National Defence College and The Claridges hotel, Tees January Marg now has a fancy new home with a swimming pool and the signature lawn of a colonial bungalow -- the house that the Ruias have built.

Brothers Shashi and Ravi Ruia had clearly no better way of announcing their arrival at the high table of Indian business than building a home in Lutyens Delhi.

In a radius of less than a kilometre live some of India's biggest business names. One might be a billionaire and own fancy homes around the world, estates and yachts, but the ultimate sign of arrival still seems to be an address in Lutyens Delhi -- so named after Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944), the architect of New Delhi.

A drive through the well-shaded and quiet neighbourhood of Prithviraj Road, Amrita Shergill Marg, Aurangzeb Road, Ferozeshah Road, Tees January Marg, Motilal Nehru Marg, et al in downtown New Delhi will take you past houses owned by steel magnates Laxmi Niwas Mittal and the Jindal brothers, old moneyed families such as the Birlas, Dalmias (seven houses), Modis (Bhupendra Kumar has two houses and his cousin, Mahendra Kumar, has one), Singhanias, Singhs (Analjit and nephews Malvinder and Shivinder), Burmans of Dabur, Ruias, Samir and Vineet Jain of The Times Group and Ram Prasad Goenka.

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Image: India Gate in Delhi.
Photographs: Reuters
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If you can afford to move in here, you will have as neighbours jetsetters like Sunil Mittal of Bharti Airtel, Atul Punj of Punj Lloyd and Hari Bhartia of Jubilant Oragnosys.

You might bump into real-estate developers K P Singh of DLF, the Guptas of MGF, Kabul Chawla of BPTP and Kamal Taneja of TDI, and hotelier Priya Paul if you go for a morning walk at the Lodi Gardens nearby.

Apart from the Viceroy's house, now Rashtrapati Bhawan, on top of Raisina Hill, Parliament House and the secretariat buildings (North Block and South Block), Lutyens also made space for bungalows for officers of the Raj, complete with high ceilings, lawns and quarters for their khidmatgars.

Some parcels of land were sold to old Delhi business families and native princes. They too built stately homes that fitted into the colonial architecture. These have now come to be occupied by the country's top businessmen.

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Image: President Pratibha Patil at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Photographs: Reuters
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There are close to 1,000 bungalows in Lutyens' Delhi occupied by ministers, politicians, judges, bureaucrats and defence personnel; about 65 are privately owned.

There is no directory of the residents of this zone. All the houses have high fences, and only a handful have bothered to put a nameplate on the gate.

The heavy police bandobast could discourage you from enquiring the name of the resident from the chowkidars at the gate.

But clearly there are many more high and mighty in the neighbourhood. Many of them don't want to talk about their riches, and none wants his fancy house photographed.

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Image: The Parliament building in New Delhi.
Photographs: Reuters
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The only names missing from the power list seem to be the Ambani brothers and Ratan Tata -- they prefer to stay, when they are in Delhi, in flats owned by their groups, though these are located in the same upscale neighbourhood.

With political patronage still important for business, what can be a bigger symbol of power than living close to Union ministers, political leaders and top bureaucrats?

Political leaders will accept your invitation readily if you live here because the commute is short. Business associates from abroad will get easily impressed -- which big city offers such spaces in its downtown localities?

Many of the bungalows in South Mumbai have given way to skyscrapers and only a handful are left, dwarfed by their tall neighbours on all sides.

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A decade ago, when media mogul Samir Jain bought a Lutyens' bungalow across the road from the Taj Mahal hotel, he invited a senior editor to join him for breakfast the morning after the transaction was completed.

A couple of chairs and a table were laid out in the as yet empty house. With breakfast brought from home on the periphery of Lutyens' Delhi, on Sardar Patel Marg, Jain shared the joy of having a home in the very colonial heart of the city!

Many businessmen have paid a king's ransom to buy a house in this exclusive residential area: L N Mittal, the Ruias (they paid Rs 92 crore -- Rs 920 million -- in 2006 for the 2.24-acre property on Tees January Marg), Sanjay Singal of Bhushan Power & Steel (one acre on Amrita Shergill Marg for Rs 137 crore -- Rs 1.37 billion --), Chawla of BPTP, and Bhartia.

Gautam Thapar of Avantha inherited the house on Amrita Shergill Marg where his uncle, Lalit Mohan Thapar, lived till he died some years ago.

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Image: Lutyens Bungalow.
Photographs: Courtesy, Lutyens Bungalow
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There are many more waiting for an opportunity to check in. Anshuman Magazine, chairman and managing director of real estate consultancy CB Richard Ellis (South Asia), says that he has received four or five queries in the last six months, and these have come in not just from Delhi businessmen but also the new rich in faraway cities like Mumbai and Bengaluru.

There are many reasons why the charm of Lutyens' Delhi has not diminished, despite larger parcels of land being available in Noida and Gurgaon, and the mushrooming farmhouses in the fringes of the city.

Clearly, limited supply is the most important reason. Then there is the charm of adhering to tough laws. These properties cannot be broken into smaller pieces and sold out. Also, many of these properties are under litigation from various claimants.

So, transactions are few and far between, never more than two or three a year. The only recent transaction was when the DLF family bought the corner house of Samir Thapar of JCT on Aurangzeb Road.

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Image: Lutyens Bungalow.
Photographs: Courtesy, Lutyens Bungalow
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Thapar says he sold out because he wanted to be close to his father, Man Mohan Thapar, who is 83 and lives in a farmhouse in Chhatarpur.

A couple of years back, Analjit Singh had bought the adjacent house of his older brother, Manjit Singh, on Aurangzeb Road. He has also inherited the house next door from his father, Bhai Mohan Singh.

Thus, of the four houses that Bhai Mohan Singh had built for himself and his three sons -- Parvinder, Analjit and Manjit -- he has come to occupy three. (The fourth is held by Parvinder Singh's sons, Malvinder and Shivinder). These should be worth a fortune.

Online real estate exchange 99acres.com lists two properties -- one is an eight-bedroom house (built-up area of 10,000 square feet) on Amrita Shergill Marg for Rs 400 crore (Rs 4 billion), and the other is a six-bedroom 'independent house' (built-up area of 12,500 sq ft) on Aurangzeb Road for Rs 425 crore (Rs 4.25 billion).

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Image: The Calridges, Delhi.
Photographs: Courtesy, The Calridges
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This is what a whole condominium of 800 apartments (roughly 1,500 sq ft each) would fetch in Noida! This could also get you about 10 farmhouses of 10 acres each on the outskirts of the city.

Sanjay Sharma of Sharma Estates, a real estate brokerage, says he can find you cheaper houses too on Prithviraj Road -- for around Rs 250 crore (Rs 2.50 billion).

With this kind of money, says Magazine, he can help you buy a house in the toniest neighbourhoods of the world.

But then the stock market has spawned many billionaires in recent times who wouldn't get intimidated by these numbers.

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Photographs: Reuters
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About a year ago, the Business Standard Research Bureau had found that there were 602 businessmen in the country with stock market wealth in excess of Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion), up from just 120 in 2000.

The Forbes list of billionaires for 2010 has 55 entries from India -- about a dozen of them can be found in Lutyens' Delhi.

Gaurav Dalmia of Landmark Holdings, who has lived here all his 45 years, says he has got several 'approaches' to sell his house but is yet to get an offer. "I don't want to move out," says he.

What he likes about the neighbourhood is the excellent infrastructure -- it is impossible to spot a dimple on the roads, taps never run dry and he is yet to buy a generator for power backup.

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Image: The Calridges, Delhi.

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"You cannot get this infrastructure anywhere else in Delhi. You cannot recreate it in a farmhouse," says he, and adds after some introspection: "It is actually a commentary on the sad state of roads and power in the rest of the city."

For Harshpati Singhania of J K Paper, the opportunity came some months ago when his uncle, Hari Shankar Singhania, invited him to live with him on Prithviraj Road. Hari Shankar Singhania had relocated from Kolkata to New Delhi in the early 1970s once the Naxal campaign against businessmen had begun.

After a few years in South Delhi, he moved to the current house which has a luxurious garden and has been done up the traditional way. So Harshpati Singhania packed his bags at Jor Bagh, where he had been staying for some years, and moved in with his uncle.

"This neighbourhood fascinated me whenever I came to Delhi as a child," says he. Harshpati Singhania loves to drive, and the broad roads of Lutyens' Delhi, shaded by tall acacia, jacaranda, gulmohar, jamun and neem trees were a big attraction for him.

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Image: The Mughal Gardens in Delhi.
Photographs: Reuters
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"I am not tense during the 15 to 20 minutes that I take to the office in the morning. The drive back in the evening is a great stress buster," says he. Sitting in his spacious Luytens lawn smoking a cigar is his idea of relaxation.

A house in Lutyens' Delhi comes with some restrictions -- you cannot increase the floor area and cannot raise the building above a certain height. Far from deterring buyers, this has added to the mystique of the locality.

Real estate developers cannot move in and sell hundreds of flats. "In the current scenario, you can decide who should be your neighbour. But you cannot control the environment once developers build hundreds of flats here," says Magazine.

The exclusivity will remain so long as this statute remains in the rule book. And given the clout that these businessmen wield, it is unlikely it will ever be tampered with, however strong the socialist leanings of the powers that be.


Photographs: Reuters
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