Indian real estate has a toxic problem

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Aden - Yasmin Abdel Azim - By Rubina A. Khan, Special to Al Khaleej Today

The cardinal constituent in real estate is location … and it has been dictating the price index and value of developments with unmatched absoluteness. But all that seems to be up in the air now, quite literally, in India.

The hazardous concentrations of particulate pollution that engulfed Mumbai in November this year was measured at PM (particulate matter) 2.5 of 320. But Delhi witnessed a PM 2.5 of above 900, way beyond the maximum of 500 and went into “extreme mode” terrain, compelling the state government to declare a public health emergency in the capital city. When inhaled, PM 2.5 affects the body’s natural defences, going deep into the lungs and even the bloodstream, causing serious health disorders like asthma and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Clean air and water is a constitutional human right, but that right seems to have been drowned out by the drilling drone of the innumerable developments and their construction dust, vehicle exhaust and industrial emissions that make up the toxicity in the air.

In ignorant bliss

State governments ignoring the Supreme Court’s orders to limit agricultural burning isn’t helping either, endangering human lives even further. Air quality is thus the new “prime location” and health is the new “amenity” that people are starting to look at when it comes to real estate, not just an exclusive address or city.

It is their lives at stake after all. “What good is buying a home in an elite neighbourhood in a metropolis that will leave you breathless,” is the popular refrain in India right now.

The address people choose to buy in, or rent in, needs to be healthy and fit for living, and conducive to their mental health and overall well-being. It should not be harbinger of a life filled with disease and hospital bills.

The bare minimum need

Sustainable is the word of choice. It has come down to sustaining human life in India with fresh air and water and taking measures to rein in as much of the toxicity up in the air. Instead of developers selling spaces highlighting the “heart” of a city, it’s time they advertised the “lungs” to get people to buy.

Hurting prospects

Newer developments are definitely hit with the unprecedented pollution levels in Delhi, and it will be a detriment going forward for buys in the capital. Mumbai is not far behind either.

Unless, of course, the deals are lucratively priced to lure people in, with the promise of fresh air and an improved Air Quality Index (AQI) by the government. Non-resident Indians have a choice to wait it out and not invest in India until the air clears up.

But do resident Indians have a choice? Not really, barring buying homes in Goa and Rishikesh. And that could quite be indicative of the buying trend in 2020 for resident Indians.

Indian realty is obviously unprepared for the AQI factor that will very soon be a dominant determiner for property buy and sell in the country. After all the regulatory laws that shook up the sector since 2016, this is another deterrent for the sector, especially with the large unsold inventories across the country.

A war on pollution needs to commence in India to accord its tax paying citizens the basic human right to breathe clean air and stay healthy. This year saw the introduction of the Model Tenancy Act as part of the first budget of the second term of the Narendra Modi government. Like its earlier reformist counterpart, the RERA, introduced in 2016, the Model Tenancy Act 2019 too reads great on paper, but yet to step up in accelerating the implementation.

I see an Air Quality Act being passed, but then again, it’s the implementation of it that looks hazy. Just like the Mumbai and Delhi skies right now.

Rubina A. Khan is a writer and photographer based in Mumbai.

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