Today’s Gurgaon is home to millions of hopes, aspirations and dreams, especially of the young and dynamic workforce, which has played a key role in the metamorphosis of Gurgaon, from a laid-back and neglected suburb of Delhi to a giant that has made the blue-eyed boys of Indian cosmopolitanism feel dwarfed and envious. But the dreamers need a real home too. A majority of this workforce that comes from all across India, neither have the resources nor the courage to buy a house of their own here. They live in guest houses and PGs scattered all across the City.
To regulate the functioning of guest houses, the Haryana government has just framed a policy. As per this, any guest house that is operational in an area less than 1,000 sq.yds in a residential locality would be deemed illegal; and a residential sector can only have a maximum of 5,000 sq.yds of land under guest houses. This has sent shock waves to not only those who are running these guest houses and PGs, but thousands of working professionals who seek refuge under their roofs. “Clearly, this is a huge injustice done to the people who live in these guest houses, because if this rule gets implemented almost all the guest houses and PGs in Gurgaon would become illegal. It would become a problem for people like us, who can’t afford to rent or own a flat in Gurgaon. We all know about the exorbitant rents in this City. That rent, and the high cost of living here, would leave people like me in debt,” said Anuj Kumar Singh, a software professional who lives in a PG in one of the HUDA sectors. As per an estimate, of the total 2,000 ‘official’ guest houses (5,000, according to insiders) in the City, less than 100 are constructed on 1,000 sq.yds plots. The new Policy has also put the fate of guest houses in high-rise buildings in jeopardy; it does not have a provision for apartments in high-rise structures.
The Deputy Commissioner, P.C Meena, last week directed HUDA and other concerned authorities to close all ‘illegal’ guest houses and PGs that are being run in the residential sectors. Meena said that using a residential plot for commercial activities is not permitted under HUDA rules. He said that the owners of these plots were availing all civic amenities—like electricity, drinking water etc.—at subsidised rates. These commercial activities also reportedly disturb the peaceful ambience of the residential sectors. The DC asked the concerned officers to serve resumption notices to the plot owners, asking why commercial activities were taking place in their plots, that too without permission. Meena said that HUDA issues ‘non-nuisance certificates’ for taking up commercial activities in residential sectors—like for opening of offices for dealing in property, consultancy etc.— but in that case also not more than 25 per cent of the space on the ground floor can be utilised for commercial activities. A fee of Rs. 50,000 is payable to HUDA for this.
What Is The Choice?
The government, just like for ‘unauthorised colonies’ people, did not think about the thousands of working professionals living in these guest houses and PGs. Where would they go? Does Gurgaon have any other another source of affordable living for this segment? “Most of the HUDA sectors don’t have plots of 1,000 sq.yds, and I don’t understand on what basis this Policy has been framed. The government should have thought about all these people who are helping run this corporate City. I believe more than one lakh people are living in these guest houses and PGs, and such a huge white collar work force can’t be taken for granted. An affordable dwelling place is a basic necessity. As far as taking the civic benefits of water and power at a residential rate is concerned, I would like to tell you that I went to DHBVN to get an electricity connection for my new PG facility, and they provided me with the connection at residential rates. And even if they want to charge the commercial rate, they can, and there are many ways they can ensure a fair collection of commercial rates from these outfits. What’s the need to seal them and leave thousands of working professionals ‘homeless’?,” said a PG and guest house owner.
Software engineers, bankers, telecom professionals, government servants – there are varied young professionals living in guest houses. Although Gurgaon has thousands of flats lying vacant and there are people looking to rent them, the rates are very high. If the other cost of living were lower, it may have worked out for some – but the food, transport and other costs are also very high. “A one bedroom flat in a ‘new’ Gurgaon colony would cost me about Rs. 15,000 per month, and with a salary of about Rs. 30,000, how can a professional afford this? The guest houses and PGs remain the best option because they are not only affordable, but almost all them provide meals and 24x7 water and power,” said Vivek Kumar, a software professional from Himachal Pradesh, who works in a company on Sohna road. Although most of these guest houses are used by the middle-income level group, there are others, who can afford a hotel or flat, but still choose to stay in guest houses. “I come to Gurgaon once in two months for three-four days for business purposes, and I can easily afford a ‘medium’ hotel for my stay, but I still choose these guest houses because they are affordable, and provide me with food that tastes ‘home-made’. Further, some of my friends and acquaintances are also staying in this guest house,” said Nirmal Verma, a young businessman from Uttrakhand.
“Most of the workforce is young, and are bachelors – or don’t have their family with them. In a flat one has to cook, or arrange a cook, which means another Rs, 1,000 to 1,500. If in a PG or guest house, an individual can manage with Rs. 10,000 in a month, a separate flat would cost the person more than Rs. 20,000,” said Akash Gupta, a senior manager in a company, who lives as a PG in one of the HUDA sectors. Real estate agents agree. “I can provide you with a nice apartment wherever you want in Gurgaon. But a single room apartment in a ‘decent’ area costs around Rs. 15,000. Food and other items would cost another Rs. 7,000; whereas in a PG, your total cost would be Rs. 10,000, for boarding and lodging. So a guest house or PG is indeed a better option for those who don’t have a family with them,” said a property dealer.
To complicate matters, many apartment owners also do not want to rent their property to ‘single young men’, because the owners believe they would become a source of nuisance. “Before coming to this PG I used to stay in an apartment in DLF Phase-V, with three other friends. Initially it went well, but later the neighbours started causing trouble, and we were not even allowed to play loud music. Coming in late at night was another issue. We never created any nuisance, but we were accused of creating problems for the other residents. I decided to come to a PG, and here I find no problem whatsoever,” added Vivek. So, the young men are in a fix – a single individual can’t afford an apartment on his own, and if he takes a flat on rent in collaboration with friends or other colleagues, ‘society’ doesn’t easily accept this. “I have rented my upper floor to a family. I had many offers, including offers made by groups of boys, but I didn’t want to be regularly opening the gates late at night. Apart from that boys normally consume alcohol, and do misbehave. We have a daughter at home. Renting to a family is a safe bet,” said Kartar Singh, a resident.
The state government seems to have come up with this Policy to recover a better rate for civic resources that are being used for commercial activities. “This Policy may have some adverse effect on the people living in these places, but the guest house owners are misusing the subsidised resources of the State. For example, DHBVN charges around Rs. 6 per unit from a residential household, whereas if the building is used for commercial purposes the same unit would cost around Rs. 10. The guest house owners are only paying the residential rate,” said an official. However, by making most current guest houses (less than 1,000 sq.yds) illegal, the State is ignoring immediate revenue gains that can accrue by charging commercial rates from them – as well as inconveniencing the young working population. New 1,000 sq.yds facilities will clearly take time to come up, and may be even more expensive.
At the ground level, till now there has been no movement. “Most probably a meeting would take place next week, in which the action plan of sealing these places would be discussed,” informed a source in HUDA. It is believed that, after the meeting next week, HUDA will issue 15 day notices to the owners of the guest houses and PGs that are deemed illegal according to this new Policy.
There is a growing feeling among the thousands of working professionals living in these PGs/guest houses, that if sealings take place, they either would have to look for other alternatives—such as a rental flat, which is anyway beyond the reach of most—or leaving Gurgaon altogether, and finding a job elsewhere. “If sealing does happen, leaving Gurgaon would be the first option, because no matter what I am earning I can’t afford to have a flat here,” said Chandan Singh, a professional. There is also a sentiment of rage and fear in the young professionals, who have been living here for quite a while now, and have given this City a fair share of their output. “The PG I live in is about seven-years-old. Why didn’t the government impose these regulations when these facilities were sprouting all over the City? The government knew for sure about these facilities,” said Ashish Trivedi, a scientist from Kanpur.
Not only men, working women too choose PGs or guest houses as they are affordable and comfortable, “If I were to rent a flat, I would have to shell out at least Rs. 15, 000 a month. Moreover, there is the security deposit and the down payment. Not many can afford that,” said a lady who is a market researcher living in a PG in one of the HUDA sectors. “The government is coming up with all these regulations and policies, but do they have an alternative for us? Our safety is also their responsibility. And do they expect all PGs and guest houses to shift to market areas? How safe is that? None of us want to compromise on living standards. They are just making things more difficult for us,” she added.
If there is an exodus of professionals, apart from the impact on jobs and companies, it would be immensely harmful for the image of this Millennium City. But since when did that really bother us...
Private Builder Areas
As of now only HUDA seems to be taking a tough stand against the guest houses and PGs which have been deemed illegal according to this new Policy. “Well, this Policy has been framed by DTCP, and hence all the places—including HUDA sectors as well as private builder areas—come under its ambit. However, HUDA as a body cannot take action against these guest houses and PGs, and so the private builders also may not. The DC or MCG, however, have the right to take action,” said Manoj Khatri, Estate Officer-II, Gurgaon. People living in private builder areas have welcomed this Policy. “I am not sure whether this Policy would get implemented in private colonies, but residents want it to be implemented because these guest houses and PGs have become a nuisance for the residents here. There is a large cluster of them. They not only put excessive pressure on the civic infrastructure, but their presence inside the gated colonies leads to frequent trouble,” said Sudhir Kapoor, Secretary General, DLF City RWA. Guest houses/PGs running in apartments in the group housing complexes do not find mention in this Policy. “Guest houses functional in apartments are also illegal. The main objective behind the Policy is to curb the illegal or commercial use of subsidised services such as water, power etc., under the pretext of residential use,” informed a HUDA official.
PGs vs Guest Houses
Actually there are many more PGs than guest houses. But most of the time people don’t understand the real difference between the two, and use them interchangeably. “The basic difference is that in a guest house one has to pay charges per day and per service, while in PGs one’s lodging is very similar to having a house or flat on rent, and just food is provided extra. Most of the people prefer PGs, because they are relatively cheaper. For example, in a good guest house, a one day stay, including food and other facilities, would cost an individual around a thousand rupees; whereas in a PG one can live with all facilities for merely 7 to 8 thousand rupees per month. Hence PGs offer a comfortable lodging at an affordable rate, whereas guest houses are only good for brief stays,” said Sandeep Sehrawat, a PG and guest house owner.