Thursday, May 30, 2002

A date with death

If it's not going with me when I say my final farewell to the world, what's the big deal with wealth creation?
Gautam Chikermane
THE NURSE walks in. Pricks my vein with efficient ease. Pain. But I don’t have the energy to protest. Slowly, life starts flowing from the bottle, drop by drop, into my veins. As I stare at the white ceiling above, with no distractions other than the thought of a near-death experience barely an hour ago, I wonder what the whole business of life is about. That’s when I notice him, hovering immensely near the ceiling. Mighty, majestic, mysterious. "Who are you?" I ask. "The God of Death," he answers simply. As clinically detached from his answer as the doctor seemed from his patient when he introduced himself. The blood that has begun to course my veins again is suddenly turning cold. "What do you want?" I mutter, almost knowing–and dreading–the answer. "I’ve come to take you," the voice rumbles. Chilled by the certainty in his voice, I mumble: "But I’m not ready yet... is there any way I can get some more time...?" "Yes..." followed by a pregnant silence. What’s the ‘but’? I wonder. What is he not telling me? I am frantic, and in that fleeting moment, I wonder if I’d sell my soul to the devil if that was the price for staying on. And, then, "Answer these two questions."
* What do you leave behind when you die?
* What do you carry with you after death?
This couldn’t be happening, but it is. He couldn’t be there, but he certainly is. With no way out, and apparently nothing to lose, I decide to give it a go.
Opinion in Outlook Money

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

A case for regulating real estate

The real estate market has to change from one that runs on 'trust' to one that runs via trustworthy institutions.
Gautam Chikermane
FOR MOST of us middle-class citizens of this country, the biggest asset we have is a house–four-and-some walls which become a place where we not only invest our hearts and minds and emotions and aspirations, but most of our money as well. I’d imagine that 70-85 per cent of our total wealth is invested in a house. The rest is largely confined to safe government-backed schemes and insurance, and a tiny fraction is either wasting away in savings bank accounts, earning a pathetic 4 per cent, or circulating among shares, mutual funds and other financial instruments. Unfortunately, the real estate sector, which houses most of the middle-class wealth, is the least regulated of all these markets. Witness the contradiction: our most valuable asset is the least governed and the least valuable asset the most regulated.
If our stock broker cheats us of Rs 1,000, we can report him to Sebi (Securities and Exchange Board of India) or to the stock exchange–and expect to get justice. But if a property dealer charges us a Rs 50,000 commission (2 per cent) on the sale of a Rs 25 lakh apartment, and the property turns out to be disputed, there is nothing we can really do by way of seeking redress. Of course, we continue paying our monthly instalments to the housing finance company. If the property dealer charges us one month’s commission (at an exorbitant 8.3 per cent, unheard of in any rational market) on an apartment we want to rent out for a year, and the tenant turns out to be a rogue, the dealer is simply not accountable. We can do nothing, get nothing, hope for nothing. Why? Simply because there is nobody to go to, no regulator to file a complaint with, no self-regulated organisation to report this mishap. Yes, we can appeal to the courts–and pray that at least our grandchildren get justice.
Column in Outlook Money