The Geography Of Kerala & Its Impact On Development
Known around the world as the God’s Own Country, Kerala is truly a blessed landscape enriched with the bounty of nature. Over the past few years, the state has been witnessing a rapid transformation in terms of development and real estate construction. Gearing up to become one of the most self-sufficient states in the nation, the Govt. of Kerala has undertaken a lot of measures to invite and accommodate massive investments from companies from around the world. Owing to this, Kerala has witnessed a massive influx of people from different walks of life from around the country, directly resulting in the need for proportional development in the residential real estate sector. Now the question to be asked here is this. Where is the space to accommodate all these people?
Based on the geography, Kerala can be divided into three; the High Land, Mid Land and the Coastal Region. The High Land comprises of hilly regions with 450 KM of Western Ghats taking up most of the space at an elevation of 2700 M above the sea level. The Mid Land is where one could find a swathe of land running across the center of the state and this area mainly comprises of paddy fields. The Coastal area of Kerala is densely crisscrossed by a network of canals and rivers.
Now, let’s take each area and its potential with regards to development specific to the real estate sector. The area around the Western Ghats is strictly off-limits as the space is protected under strict environmental regulations. Put simply, there is no scope for constructing projects in this area and this is understandable as the bio-diversity of this region is too precious to be destroyed for the purposes of construction and development.
Coming to the Mid Land area of Kerala- traditionally a space where most of the development activities took place now comes under the complex Wetland Paddy Land Act. The rapid depletion of the area used for cultivation has shrilled from 8.75 lakh hectares in 1970 to a mere 1.9 lakh hectares in 2016. This is understandably a cause of concern. But the point here should be to find a fine balance between the development of spaces in the Mid Land and the preservation of the paddy fields. As it stands, the wetlands reclaimed before 2008 could be regularized for developmental purposes by paying an additional 50% of the current fair value. This opens the doors for many real estate developers in Kerala to ramp up construction but the concern for the protection of the paddy fields in the state of Kerala still remains.
Let’s delve deeper into the alternate construction methodologies that could be used in such a scenario. Why do builders need such a vast amount of space? Why are builders keen on the idea of constructing uber-luxurious projects for the elite with a vast array of amenities that even a 5-star resort does not offer?
Let’s take an example into consideration. Developing a villa project would take up at least 3 acres of land with more space needed to accommodate the number of amenities to cater to the needs of the residents. Imagine the amount of space that is being taken up just to accommodate these villa projects across the state? Thinking of an alternative, families can be accommodated in high-rise buildings by utilizing a fraction of the space required for the villa projects. The catch 22 situation for the builders here is the permissible F.A.R (Floor Area Ratio) regulation controlling the size of the building. Now, if the permissible F.A.R is 3 for a plot that measures 50 cents (approx. 21,780 Sq.Ft), then the maximum space to be constituted in all the floors put together will be 65,340 Sq.Ft (21,780 Sq.Ft X 3 F.A.R). So here the per unit size might not be big enough for the residents. The regulation allows the builder to add more space by paying Rs. 100 extra per Sq.Ft. It is not viable for both the builder and for the end consumer to make a high-rise project costlier. Here is where the different authorities can come together and make amendments to promote vertical construction and in turn save space while accommodating more families. Countries like Japan and Malaysia have many mega high-rise towers to accommodate the population as the building regulations are more pro-active and not reactive as is evident with the laws in our state.
Yet another concern in the state of Kerala is the regulation governing the construction of projects across the coastal lines. As it stands, projects can only be constructed 500M away from the sea. However, there are amendments being planned that will reduce the distance to just 50M to favor the tourism industry. The charm of living next to the sea belt took a drastic hit amongst prospective buyers owing to the tragic floods that ravished the state. Many are looking for space away from the shorelines due to this. Speaking on this issue, Mr. T.A. Joseph, the Founding Director & MD of Confident Group said that the effect of floods has been really drastic. While he commends the Govt. and the common man for doing their best to uplift the state post floods, he believes that things would have different if certain archaic regulations were relaxed. He pointed out that back in the day, landlords near the sea belt were allowed to take silt and use it for agriculture proposes keeping the accumulation of slit in check. Now that is not the case due to strict laws governing the removal of sediments. Heavy rains along with the forced opening of numerous dams across the state resulted in the accumulation of more silt and debris making the passage of water into the sea really difficult. Serious thoughts have to be given to control and minimize the effects in the future in case we are faced with such a scenario again. And the only way to achieve this is by implementing and enforcing proactive measures. What is a matter of bigger concern is the international scientific community report which suggests that by 2050 we could see several CM of sea level rise threatening the coastal belts across the state.
To summarize, space is a valuable commodity in our state. We have to act responsibly while utilizing space for the purpose of construction and development. Lack of space to construct doesn’t mean a lack of innovation. Implementing alternate methods like vertical high-rise constructions, making better use of space while respecting Mother Nature and bringing in proactive measures do positively accommodate the growing needs and demands of the housing sector in the state is the answer. The common man doesn’t have to aspire for an independent villa; they can opt for an apartment instead. They are priced cheaper and come with most of the features an independent villa has the offer. The rich and the affluential don’t have to reside in expansive bungalows amidst a massive acreage of space with amenities that push the limits of luxury. Finding a balance and making the best use of space while limiting the negative impact on nature is imperative in times as these.