by MITALEE KUDEKAR
Fortune, they say, favours the brave. Kamal Kishore Gupta, chairman, and Babulal Varma, managing director, Omkar Realtors & Developers Pvt. Ltd, are shining examples of this adage. The dynamic duo had a fortuitous start to their career in 2003, when construction contractor Varma had a chance meeting with Gupta, who had asked him to build the latter’s steel factory in Gujarat. Having hit it off with Varma and seeing an opportunity in the construction sector, Gupta decided to foray into real estate. It wasn’t an easy decision to enter a tough real estate market like Mumbai, but the two noticed that the space for slum rehabilitation was largely untapped. They decided to take a calculated risk and plunge into the sector.
“At that time, I saw a grey area in the redevelopment sector. There were no good developers or no credible developers in that system. We entered that segment because we had limited funds,” confesses Varma. Gupta adds, “We started with a very small project thinking that ‘we may succeed, we may not succeed’. Our first project was a great experience and a big success. It was a scheme of only 50 slums, but that was just the beginning.” Little did they know then that they had commenced operations for a business that would eventually become a towering success.
A mere 13 years on, the name Omkar has become almost synonymous with SRA-related projects in Mumbai. That’s because Gupta and Varma were determined to stay focused on this segment and unearth its potential.
“In 2004, the credibility of the developer in the redevelopment space was lacking. I think more than 95% of these developers had failed. When we entered the scene, we evacuated and rehabilitated all the tenants within a year, and this came as a surprise to everybody,” says Varma. With a background in construction and using the limited funds necessary, they managed to dramatically construct an eight storey building within eight months. The project was Deep Residency in the Parel area of Mumbai, where pricing was as low as around Rs 1,800-1,900 per sq-ft, making it easy for Omkar to enter the market. Of course, the land value has escalated to Rs 20,000-25,000 today.
Gupta states, “We enjoyed great success with that project. When we completed the first building for the rehabilitation of tenants, the entire neighbouring community took notice of the developer that had come in just eight-nine months ago and delivered what they had committed. We then launched our sale building and, in one and half years, we completed that too. This was when even big league developers were not performing well. If they took a booking today, they wouldn’t even meet the customer for five years. We broke the myth by delivering the project within one and half years.”
Varma sums it up when he says, “I think the key thing that we realised later was that credibility, transparency and speed was lacking in this segment.” From then on, there was no looking back. Omkar built a reputation and fast gained the support of tenants, social activists and local corporators/ MLAs alike. “Our way of working was good, but luck also gave support to our sweat,” reminisces Varma.
Gupta jokes that they got a bit of tailwind, spurring them on. From a redevelopment of 50 slums, they went on to the neighbouring colony of 100 slum dwellers, then 300, and finally 840 tenements at Ambedkar Nagar. Since one hut means five people, 800 slums means having to deal with 4,000-odd people, whom they managed to have evacuated in eight months flat. Here too, Omkar devised a unique method.
The Gentle Giant
They came up with the concept of a Property Affairs team, which also consists of employees from leading B-schools, MBA holders and the like, some of whom have been relationship managers in banks and other verticals. They are trained to approach slum dwellers, and convince them about the benefits of redevelopment. One manager reaches out to only four-five tenements, devoting his time and efforts to educating them about the programme. They are even assisted with medical aid or help with children’s admissions. Gupta asserts that unlike others developers, no muscle power is used in their procedure, calling it the ‘Gandhian way’ of getting things done.
Varma, who himself played the role of a relationship manager at some point, explains, “If 70% people have supported the scheme and the remaining 30% want to oppose the scheme, then the Government will enforce the law and evacuate these homes. Instead, this mechanism uses mind management. People are very happy with it. This is a different type of model that we have introduced in Mumbai, and we have witnessed a great deal of success.”
But that’s not all. The company goes a step further too, in helping tenants acclimatise to their new lifestyle. Whether it is how to use an elevator, how to operate the fire fighting system, ways of saving water or how to dispose garbage, a two-three hour-long training is provided. They also believe in employing the same contractor for both the redevelopment and sale buildings.
Perhaps these are some of the reasons why Omkar has managed to complete so many SRA projects smoothly and in a short duration of time. Among these, Om Annexe, Om Arcade and Om Gopal, all in Dadar, were commercial ventures. Om Shivshahi, on the other hand, was a residential building that was constructed when a slum in Sion was demolished. The interesting story behind this project is that Gupta, who stayed in Chembur, used to pass this slum of 400-500 hutments on his way to work. He realised that it caused a big traffic bottleneck, with children from the slum playing on the streets. Seeing an opportunity, the partners took up the project. Not only did they complete it, but today, their office – Omkar Esquare – stands on the adjoining plot. Similarly, The Summit Business Bay (TSBB), Andheri; Woodside, Dadar West; Om Residency, Parel; Aloka, Dadar; Nikamwadi, Dadar; Raga, Chembur; and Veda, Parel; are some of their other completed projects.
The smooth execution of past projects has paved the way for the company to take on bigger projects. Ongoing projects include the luxurious Alta Monte, Malad, with 1,400 apartments; Meridia, BKC Extension, having 350 apartments; Vayu, a relatively small project in Mahim; Ananta, Goregoan with 450 apartments; and Crescent Bay, Parel, in partnership with L&T and having 1,400 apartments. Also, Forum Group from Kolkata is partnering with them for a new venture in BKC titled Serendipity. But the one project that is garnering the most interest is the highly talked-about Omkar 1973 Worli.
Omkar 1973 Worli is Omkar’s flagship development spread over 4.5 acres in a tony neighbourhood in Mumbai. It derives its unique name, 1973, from the latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates of Mumbai. Designed by one of the world’s most admired architectural design firms, Foster +Partners, the project has already attracted a lot of interest in real estate and consumer circles alike. The development has attracted an initial funding from Indiareit Fund (Ajay Piramal Group) and Yes Bank.
Their front-runner project will house over 70 storeys each in three towers and all phases are due to be completed by 2018. Over 400 bespoke sky bungalows spanning 3/4/5 BHK, penthouse, duplex, triplex and full floor plate are on offer, with apartment sizes ranging from 2,500 to 18,200 sq-ft. With two of the towers piercing the 300mt mark, they will be one of the tallest luxury towers on a global scale. The UK’s LDA Design is in charge of landscaping, while USA-based HBA is overlooking the interior designing. The top three floors of each tower make up triplex apartments, priced at a whopping Rs 250 crore each. Needless to the say, the country’s who’s who are investing in what will undoubtedly be a marquee development, once completed.
The construction itself is being carried out using superior technology with L&T as the contractor. A Jump Form or Automatic Climbing System (ACS) from Doka ensures efficient utilisation of manpower, while promising top-notch construction quality and helping to conform to strict project timelines. Elaborating on this selection, Raman Sapru, president, EPC, says, “First of all, it is horses for courses, since different projects have different needs. And with technology, it’s project-specific. If you ask me about Omkar 1973 Worli, we are specifically using jump form. We have done this in order to achieve faster slab cycles.”
When asked about the risk involved, given that something like this has been attempted before too, Sapru is quick to point out: “It is not that people have failed. I’ll put it this way, sometimes people use half technology. That is what has happened – there have been gaps in the past. So whatever we have learnt from our predecessors or whosoever has done this before, we are trying to learn from and fill those gaps of half technology. And the building is standing there, so it has worked successfully for us.”
In addition to the Jump Form System, ALPOLIC sheets are being imported from Japan’s Mitsubishi for use as Aluminum Composite Panels (ACP). Superior quality glass from Asahi, CSG (China Shanghai Glass) and Saint Gobain is also in play. Grundfos is supplying pumps, while HVAC is being covered by Daikin. The project will have lighting solutions by Osram (Siemens), and Toto will handle its plumbing needs. Given the stature of the project, building automation is a must, and is being mainly provided by Honeywell.
When relating this to their other projects, Gupta professes, “We have introduced every possible technology in Mumbai; whether it is tunnel form, jump form or pre-cast technology. On average, all Omkar projects put together will have 8,000 plus workers on site every day. I think no other developer in Mumbai has this type of workforce.”
From strength to strength
The most striking thing about Omkar’s founding partners is that despite tasting such great success in Mumbai, the duo is not keen to explore other markets in the near future. They believe that there is enough to be done in Mumbai itself, given the vast slum areas in need of redevelopment. By partnering with the likes of L&T and Shapoorji Pallonji, they have plans to develop projects similar to Omkar 1973 Worli and Omkar Alta Monte.
“For next 10 years, we have a clear-cut agenda for our organisation. We are aware of what we have to do in the next 10 years and those numbers are very big indeed. I am not worried about the numbers as we are already working on them. Definitely, when it comes to the redevelopment aspect, it is taking its own time. If you have 100 acres of unoccupied land available, you can start construction if you want to, but with a redevelopment project, it always takes time,” asserts Varma.
Of course, the partners at Omkar are not even slightly perturbed by the task at hand. And why should they be. Having made a success of something as murky as slum development, they have managed to turn it into their forte today. With a current turnover of around Rs 1,890 crore for 2015-16, Omkar has already come a long way in a short span of time. With a continued focus on the Mumbai market, they are charting a new course for the maximum city’s real estate sector. By having slum pockets replaced by towering facades, not only is Mumbai’s skyline being altered, but slum dwellers are also getting a new lease of life. In either case, with Omkar’s lofty dreams, ‘redevelopment’ history is surely in the making.