Date:21/04/2007 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/pp/2007/04/21/stories/2007042100400100.htm
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Soaring on the back of an airport-led boom

Nedumbassery is now enjoying, more than ever before, an airport-fuelled development boom, which has sent land prices soaring and attracted more and more building projects, writes PRAVEEN M.P.

— Photo: H. Vibhu

GROWTH TRACK: The new international arrival terminal at the Cochin International Airport at Nedumbasserry. The airport's expansion and diversification projects are transforming Nedumbassery into a hub of urban growth.

Is Nedumbassery, riding on the crest of an unprecedented development wave fuelled by the growth of the Cochin International Airport, set to emerge as a city of sorts in the coming years?

Nothing reflects the change of face of this previously remote village as the steep rise in land price and the increasing number of building projects planned here.

From being just a remote place about 15 years ago, or to be precise, before the airport was mooted here, land has literally become hot property in this region. Not only Nedumbassery but the adjoining areas such as Nayathodu, Vapalassery, Akaparambu, Avanamkodu, Thuruthussery, Athani and Chengamanad are also witnessing a phenomenal rise in the price of land.

Land with road frontage on the 5-km VIP road stretching from Athani to the airport will fetch a minimum of Rs. 5 lakh a cent and upwards, says a real-estate broker. Price in this particular area hit an all-time high when an eight-cent plot was sold at Rs. 12 lakh a cent last week, he says. Even land in the adjacent interior areas will fetch up to Rs. 1 lakh a cent, while land with National Highway frontage can earn anything between Rs. 1 lakh and Rs. 3 lakh, a document writer says. Compare this with the early 1990's when anything between Rs. 1,000 and Rs. 3,000 a cent was considered a bonanza. There were instances when paddy fields near the area where the airport now exists were sold out for a paltry Rs. 200 to Rs. 300 a cent, says the broker, who had actually sold his paddy fields precisely for that rate.

A document writer says that between 30 and 40 land transactions are registered daily in the Chengamanad Sub-Registrar's office. Of this, at least 75 per cent is by way of sale-deed registration, while will registrations, settlements, partitions, gifts and so on make up the rest.

About 75 per cent of the land transacted comes within the Nedumbassery panchayat limits. According to him, the number of land transactions had registered a marginal fall a couple of months ago after rumours of hawala money being used in such transactions set the alarm bells ringing, making those involved in land deals jittery. However, an upward trend is being witnessed again.

Airport city

Shriram Bharat, Managing Director, Cochin International Airport Ltd., predicts that the airport will fuel the formation of a full-fledged airport city in Nedumbassery 10 years from now.

It will have all the trappings of a city in the immediate vicinity of the airport, while agriculture will be promoted in a big way in the adjoining areas, for which the airport itself will take the initiative, he says.

The proposed centre for perishable cargo being set up by the airport, in association with the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), will be a path-breaking venture, changing the destiny of agriculture and farmers in the State.

"We will educate farmers on good farming practices, water conservation, etc., and help them find a market for their produce by avoiding middlemen," Mr. Bharat says. The 1,800-sq.m centre being set up at a total investment of Rs. 15.02 crore is expected to be commissioned in June.

Development projects

The airport has also drawn up ambitious development projects estimated at Rs. 3,500 crore on 440 acres of its land, which are to be completed by 2015. The first phase of Rs. 1,000 crore, including an information technology park, a golf course, two hangars and a convention centre, is expected to be completed by 2008-end.

A consultant has been appointed for drawing up a master plan for the Rs. 640-crore information technology park. Coming up on 35 acres with a built-up area of about 3.81 million sq.ft, the park is expected to create 15,000 job opportunities, both directly and indirectly.

The construction of the airport's new state-of-the-art departure block, with a built-up area of 3 lakh sq.ft, is fast approaching completion and is expected to be ready for commissioning by the end of the year. The new block will be able to handle 1,200 passengers during peak time.

When completed, it will take the total built-up area of the international terminal to 4.8-lakh sq.ft. and will have the capacity to handle about 24-lakh passengers a year.

A new arrival block with a built-up area 1,78,000 sq.ft was commissioned in 2005 at a cost of around Rs.19 crore.

The airport has also among its plans a hospital at an estimated cost of Rs. 250 crore to tap the State's potential for medical tourism.

Residency projects

Nedumbassery has also become the preferred destination for builders as various residential and commercial projects are being conceived here.

Pen Group has already sold 60 acres of land, in plots of 10 cents, right next to the airport. The initial price of Rs. 40,000 a cent had to be hiked to Rs. 1.3 lakhs owing to better demand. The group did not want to take the plunge into construction straightaway and, therefore, served as a facilitator for those who were looking for land adjacent to the airport, says Poly K. Ayyampilli, its managing director.

Shwas Homes Private Ltd. has launched its project "The Loungue," which promotes the concept of transit villas focussing mainly on the frequent air travellers. The advantage is that they need not rely on hotels for short stays, as these villas are coming up at a stone's throw away from the airport, says Shaji Ayyappan, director, Shwas Homes.

Three and four bedroom villas will have a price tag of Rs. 30 lakh each. The first phase is expected to be completed in 18 months. In the first phase, launched in March, 50 villas on 3.85 acres of land were planned at an expected cost of around Rs. 20 crore.

However, the promoters had to plan a second phase of 34 villas on 2.6 acres at an estimated cost Rs. 15 crore and Rs. 20 crore after all the villas in the first phase were sold out under two days among non-resident Keralites from Dubai, Muscat and Doha.

Ten villas were even overbooked.

With traffic through the Kochi airport on the ascendancy, Mr. Ayyappan expects the number of transit passengers to go up further.

Saj Group has set up a resort named "Earth," comprising 36 cottages half a km from the airport. Two cottages will be of the exclusive kind with facilities such as separate swimming pools. Then, there are 18 "pool cottages" with a step-in-pool facility, providing the residents direct access to the pool from their cottages. The remaining 16 are conceived as "island cottages," covered on three sides with water.

The resort is set to be launched on August 11 and targets mainly businessmen, says K.K. Anand Kishore, regional director, Saj Group. Bookings will be open from the day of launch by when the price will also be fixed, he said.

Catering unit

Increased traffic through the airport has led to the setting up of aviation related ancillary projects in the area. Casino Air Caterers, which caters to 28 to 30 flights daily, is all set to launch a state-of-the-art catering unit on 2 acres of land opposite the airport. The unit has the capacity to serve 10,000 meals a day and will be formally launched within a month, V.B. Rajan, general manager, Casino Air Caterers, says.

With the flow of domestic and foreign tourists through the Kochi airport on the rise, the hospitality industry has also taken deep root in the area. A place where roadside tea stalls and ordinary hotels were the norm now boasts of a slew of star and budget hotels.

If that was not enough, the airport company itself is planning a string of hotels on its land. "To start off with we are planning a seven-star, a five-star and a three-star hotel, thus catering to all categories of tourists, Mr. Bharat said.

Rental accommodation

With the airport becoming a source of employment, thousands are reaching Nedumbassery daily, opening up a new avenue of income for the local people who are renting out portions of their homes. Small-time lodges are also making a decent income.

As a local resident puts it, the airport is the single-most important promoter of Nedumbassery, and as long as it keeps doing well, everyone will have his or her share of benefits.

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