Flat Culture crops up in Jammu

Sunny Dua
Jammu – The City of Temples was known by this name primarily because temple sapphires used to don its skyline. The golden painted or brass sapphires with saffron flags furling high on masts were visible from every corner of Jammu thereby giving the city its identity. However, massive commercialization and ever increasing housing needs forced people to go vertical and raise high-rise concrete rather unsafe and ill planned structures overshadowing city-skyline that once made Jammu people proud of their heritage and culture.
Until 70s the city and its limits were confined to old city area only but over a decade the horizontal expansion increased its limits from 32 Sq.Km to 112 Sq.Km especially when Corporation Act 2000 for the capital cities of Jammu and Srinagar was introduced that made Jammu Municipality earn the Status of JammuMunicipal Corporation (JMC). Ever since then the city never looked back and multiple housing colonies, apartments, penthouses, villas, bungalows, row houses, individual plots and group housing societies besides Self Finance Scheme (SFS) apartments started coming up here that changed the city skyline forever.
Today when old city is terribly choked, new housing colonies are getting converted into commercial hubs and no new residential project worth living is coming up, only alternative left with people is to go in for apartments which are being built both by government agencies as well as private builders. Maximum buyers of this type of real estate however are investment centric. Since properties are not taxed in Jammu and Kashmir as are being done by Municipal Corporations of other cities, people here still prefer individual houses to apartments even if they have to buy land from private developers.
Jammu Municipal Corporation (JMC) has not been able to maintain or repair its existing old flats at SabziMandi or at other locations in Jammu so nothing much can be expected from the agency when it comes to providing housing. J&K Housing Board has not developed any colony since past over 25 years and JDA had very recently got vacated some encroached pieces of land at Birpur and KotBhalwal only to carve out colonies. This too could happen because of sincerest efforts of SushmaChouhanwho during her tenure as VC JDA not only got land retrieved but also ensured its development which now unfortunately stands stagnated.
According to a rough estimate total population of J&K as per 2011-12 records was about 1.25 Crore which has increased to 1.45 Crore in 2018. Individual population of Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh as per 2011-12 records is estimated to be 70 lakh, 54 lakh and 30 lakh respectively. However, maximum people are banking upon private builders or are into buying and selling of already existing properties because of their natural migration pattern in search of jobs, better livings and children’s studies from villages to towns and from towns to capital cities in a phased manner. This is being seized as great opportunities by property developers in Jammu.
Apartment Culture
Demand surveys conducted by multiple agencies during past revealed that people are showing lukewarm interest in buying apartments but majority amongst them are Pandit community who migrated from Kashmir in 90s. Apartments or Flats are also popular amongst Kashmiri Muslim families who find these units manageable and comfortable during their winter stays in Jammu. So far as Jammu people are concerned they still are reluctant to invest in these high rise buildings for multiple reasons. Some nuclear families, individuals, investors and in some cases some bankrupt gone businessmen have purchased apartments in Jammu that have been built by government agencies as well as private builders. Another reason for people not showing keen interest in flats is poor quality constructions and easy availability of land for making individual houses – a trend that gives them a sense of pride of owning a bungalow.
Since Article 370 bars people from other states to buy properties in J&K State, builders here invest accordingly. Knowing that they have limitations in terms of buyers, they take calculated risk in building number of apartments. Second biggest hurdle is Property Tax, in absence of which, people here prefer bigger houses with lawns, garages, private terraces and kitchen gardens to flaunt their wealth or lifestyle. This taste or status symbol doesn’t encourage people to invest in apartments. Despite that over a dozen projects that have come up on outskirts of Jammu have got some select buyers, majority of which are investors. Once elections to JMC and Srinagar Municipal Corporations (SMC) are held and 74th Amendment of the constitution completely extended buying pattern will completely change. That’s for sure.
Society Culture
Not used to living in societies like that in Delhi, Mumbai or other metro cities people here are yet to come to terms with apartment culture. Sharing compounds, entrances, lifts, terraces, common facilities or respecting privacies are something new to this land which again is a factor that makes people stay away from apartments. Those who by compulsions had bought flats in city or its suburbs have by choice sold them out to others primarily because they couldn’t adjust to new culture or norms that are followed in apartments.
Since a select few builders have used substandard materials and people don’t pay for maintenance to the office bearers of societies in apartments, maintenance remains a major issue. Apartments in Jammu have also been designed in such a way that they need regular maintenance which costs money. Barring a few on Canal Road and Trikuta Nagar most of the apartments also lack proper security and make inhabitants unsafe.
Majority of apartments lack basic amenities like that of parking, lifts, security, CCTV cameras, shopping centers, accessibility and their proximity to important institutions. At some places the situation is so grim that people even don’t get newspapers. People move to city areas even for petty purchases and lack of proper public transport system to their destinations also make these apartments less attractive for buyers. Despite all odds many still find these apartments good enough for living because it gives them their desired privacies. This is how they perceive living in apartments is while others differ.
Trust Level
Other than the Government agencies the private builders are yet to earn the trust of people. Though they have sold hundreds of units, yet many of them fail to qualify quality test in the eyes of their buyers. Some of the apartments in Sidhra and Akhnoor Road though have attracted many good buyers yet others have failed to win trust of people. Going by the trend, it looks that it will take people some more time and builders some more quality projects to make hay.
Future of Apartments
Apartments see a bright future for the simple reason that government agencies claim of having no land bank with them. Acquisition of land for them is cumbersome process which most of the officials now avoid , with the result, no new colony is coming up. Engaged in already existing colonies that involve transfer of houses, plots, apartments and sanctioning their free hold rights, many agencies don’t even look upon building new colonies. This leaves the rink for private builders. Since colonies built during past were ill planned, people encroached parks and gardens only to make religious places, shops and other amenities thereby spoiling the essence of living in residential areas. Today almost all the housing colonies are fast turning into commercial hubs that again give private builders an edge to sell their properties at premium rates. In case agencies like JMC, JDA and JKHB that claim to be fulfilling housing needs of all want to stay relevant and in business they too will have to come up with new colonies and apartments that are aesthetically designed, possess all amenities, have service lanes, shopping complexes, parking areas and drained nullahs for proper drainages. The earlier flaws were rectified by Economic Reconstruction Agency (ERA) that gave some shape to flawed colonies by building their roads, drains, nullahs and executing allied works. Now that Jammu as well as Srinagar will be turning into smart cities it is hoped that remaining flaws will be done away with or new colonies carved out on modern lines.