Independence Day special: Major milestones in Indian realty in the recent past

[] As the country celebrates its 74th Independence Day, here’s a look at the milestones that have had a lasting impact on India’s real estate industry

From the zamindari system in 1947 to the Affordable Rental Housing Complexes scheme (ARHC) in 2020, the Indian real estate sector has come a long way. In fact, the past few years have witnessed several challenges and have also been quite eventful for the Indian property market. While old archaic laws and practices have been rooted out, new ones like the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act (RERA) and the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code have led the way, in safeguarding home buyers’ interest and investment. On India’s 74th Independence Day, here is a snapshot of the events that have made Indian real estate what it is today.


Launch of Affordable Rental Housing Complex Scheme

In a big boost to the ‘Housing for All’ mission, another sub-scheme under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), the Affordable Rental Housing Complexes (AHRCs) scheme was approved by the union cabinet in July 2020. Under this scheme, all vacant homes in government-funded housing complexes will be allotted on rent to the urban poor and migrant workers for 25 years. The government has also invited private and public entities to build such complexes on vacant land, for which incentives will be offered which includes additional floor space index, concessional loans and tax reliefs. The scheme is expected to benefit over 3.5 lakh people.

Creation of a stress fund

The long pending demand of the industry, to create a stress fund to provide last-mile funding to stuck projects, was finally met in November 2019, when the finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the creation of a Rs 25,000-crore alternative investment fund (AIF). The fund aims at re-establishing normalcy in the cash-starved real estate sector. According to an estimate, the fund will help over 4.58 lakh units across 1,509 projects reach completion, once allocation starts. While there are a number of conditions for a project to qualify for the allocation under the AIF, around Rs 540 crores has already been disbursed to some residential projects. The funding limit under the AIF has been capped at Rs 400 crores.

Home loan interest rates linked to the repo rate

In a big relief to home buyers, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) made it mandatory for all financial institutions and banks to link all their floating rate home loans to the repo rate, from October 2019. Apart from this, interest rates based on any external benchmark will be reset at least once in three months. Even though the lenders can decide on the spread that they charge over the benchmark, to calculate the final interest rate, the RBI said that the spread can be changed only if the credit assessment of the borrower undergoes a substantial change. This has come as a big win for the consumers, as the banks earlier were slow in passing on the benefit of lower interest rates to their borrowers, when the repo rates were reduced by the RBI.


Enactment of the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act

After years of discussion and speculation, the real estate regulatory authority finally took shape in India’s property market, with the intention to regulate developers, brokers and safeguard home buyers. The RERA came into force in May 2017 and mandated all builders and property agents to register with the regulatory authority. Under the law, every state authority will have an adjudicating bench and appellate tribunal, to hear home buyers’ complaints. Now, the centre is planning to create a unified online portal, for all state real estate regulatory authorities, to simplify the process further.


Launch of REITs

It was in March 2019, when India’s first real estate investment trust (REIT) by Embassy Office Parks, was listed. Its launch has brought fresh hopes into the cash-strapped real estate sector. With the help of these publicly listed trusts, investors with small ticket sizes can invest in real estate, instead of investing in company shares or bonds. At present, REITs are allowed only for commercial real estate. REITs are expected to fuel the demand for office spaces, from sectors IT/ITeS, banking and financial services institutions, logistics, manufacturing and consumer goods.


GST replaces VAT and Service Tax

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) was introduced in July 2017, which replaced the Value Added Tax (VAT) and service tax on under-construction property. Initially, a GST of 18% was levied on real estate with input tax credit, which was subsequently brought down to 5% for regular housing projects and 1% for affordable housing projects, in March 2019. The GST also helped the exchequer, as it became easier to track transactions and the money trail in project construction. As multiple taxes are subsumed within the GST, it is hoped that this will reduce developers’ construction costs, along with a reduction in cost of logistics.


Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016

In order to consolidate all types of bankruptcy cases, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) was brought into picture in May 2016. The Code is aimed at being a one-stop solution, for resolving insolvencies. Earlier, this was a long process that did not offer an economically viable arrangement. The IBC protects the interests of small investors, home buyers and makes the process of doing business less cumbersome. As per the Code, the entire process needs to be completed in 270 days. According to media reports, the overall bad loans of commercial banks peaked at Rs 10.36 trillion as of March 2018. Total claims filed, were worth Rs 2.53 trillion and the IBC has recovered Rs 1.08 trillion – a recovery rate of 42.8%.

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PMAY: Impetus to affordable housing and Housing For All

The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) was launched in June 2015, to provide affordable housing to every family in India. Under the PMAY, over 2 crore houses are to be built in urban and rural areas. Under the mission, four different kind of schemes were offered, covering the economically weaker sections, lower income groups and middle-income group families. Several government authorities and developers are now extending benefits of the PMAY to home buyers, offering interest subsidy and other financial benefits.


Draft Model Tenancy Act

The Urban Development Ministry has introduced the Draft Model Tenancy Act in the public domain. This law, when implemented, is intended to safeguard the interests of tenants and landlords. This was the first time that rental housing was put on the agenda, by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in Budget 2019. Even though the policy is not binding on states/UTs, as land is a state subject under the Indian constitution, this could be a way ahead for those people who do not see home ownership as a goal. Also, the policy does not have any retrospective effect, which means existing rental contracts remain outside the purview of the policy.

Events that shaped Indian cities after 1952

  • The new capital cities of Chandigarh and Gandhinagar were formed in 1952 and 1960, respectively. These were the first and rare occasions of planning entirely new cities in the country.
  • The Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act, 1966, first incorporated the practice of development plans and town planning. The Planning Commission also issued its first guidelines for district planning in 1969, which led to many states to formulate district plans. However, except for a few examples, these initiatives didn’t yield positive results.
  • The Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act was enacted in 1976, to curb speculative hikes in land prices in urban areas and to provide low-income housing. However, because of poor implementation, it ended up worsening the situation of availability of land for social housing and social infrastructure in urban areas and was eventually repealed in all states except West Bengal and Kerala.
  • The government started setting up institutions, such as the Housing and Urban Development Company in 1970, City and Industrial Development Corporation in 1971, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority in 1975, National Housing Bank in 1988 and the Housing Development Finance Corporation in 1994, to strengthen the residential real estate industry.
  • In the backdrop of a looming fiscal deficit crisis, the economy was liberalised in 1991 through reforms, which set in motion its modernisation process. This created newer job opportunities and gave a big market of consumers, access to many products and services for the first time. This led to the entry of multi-national corporations into India in a big way and brought a new type of demand – contemporary, world-class office space.

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  • The phase of 1994-99 marked the completion of India’s first property cycle as the market, which was opened up, saw property prices go up for the first time, thanks to NRIs and foreign capital. However, the realty market tapered off after 1995, due to inherent inefficiencies. With the advent of the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997-98, foreign capital was wiped out and growth in capital values came to a halt altogether.
  • The idea of commercialisation of the space above transit routes, was first introduced at Vashi station in Navi Mumbai, in 1992. Other stations, such as Sanpada, Juinagar, Nerul and CBD Belapur on the same railway line followed in Vashi’s footsteps but met with lesser degrees of success. However, the latest transformation of Seawoods-Darave railway station has met with phenomenal success.
  • India received global recognition as a force in the software world, thanks to the Y2K bug, which also proved to be another turning point for the real estate industry. More foreign companies started setting up offices in cities like Hyderabad and Bengaluru, which led to growth in these cities’ commercial and residential real estate.
  • Foreign direct investment (FDI) in real estate was first allowed in the year 2005, which opened up newer ways of funding and led to a maturing of the industry, in terms of business practices and product offerings. The FDI regime has been further liberalised in recent years, leading to record private equity inflows and entry of foreign developers.
  • Just before the turn of the millennium, Indians were introduced to the concept of organised retail through the first mall: Spencer Plaza in Chennai, followed by Crossword in Mumbai and Ansal Plaza in Delhi. From the early 2000s, there has been a spurt of mall developments across the country.
  • The government approved the restructuring and modernisation of brownfield airports, such as Mumbai and Delhi, as well as greenfield airports at Bengaluru and Hyderabad, through the public-private partnership model in 2006. This led to the introduction of the concept of airport cities and airport precinct real estate.
  • The collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 triggered a panic, along with the sub-prime crisis, leading investors to scout for rationality in investments across asset classes. The ensuing economic slowdown and risk of job losses, made it difficult for investors to exit from their stakes in Indian real estate. The global financial crisis, however, had a big impact on commercial realty in India and a limited impact on residential realty in the country. The price fall led to quick sales and India’s residential market bounced back sooner than most expected.

(With inputs from Ashutosh Limaye, real estate analyst)

Copyright belongs to:

Debora Berti

Università degli Studi di Firenze, IT

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