ETA Star of Dubai investing in Indian real estate

By N Rao | 06 Apr 2006


Dubai-based Al Ghurair group''s ETA Star is offering rich Indians real estate propositions in Dubai and in India in collaboration with the Tata group''s Taj chain. Among these are the Grandeur Residences at Palm Jumeirah in Dubai and The Gardens in Bangalore. International realty developers are wooing wealthy Indians, especially celebrities, jetsetters, and the growing tribe of billionaires, wanting them to invest a part of their growing assets portfolio in overseas properties.

With India taking tentative steps towards the free float of the rupee, international developers see tremendous opportunities in the country, and have begun marketing projects. The latest to do so is Dubai-based ETA Star, part of the $3 billion Al Ghurair group, which has a significant presence in property development and retailing.

Says Abid A. Junaid, executive director, ETA Star: "We expect many resident Indians to invest in our new project in Dubai. The response so far has been overwhelming."

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the country''s central bank, allows resident Indians to remit up to $25,000 every year for a range of ''permissible capital or current account transactions or a combination of both'' (including acquisition of immoveable properties abroad).

India''s buoyant foreign exchange reserves position - with total reserves touching the $150 billion-mark - have emboldened the government to think in terms of considering full convertibility of the rupee on the capital account.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently suggested that the time was ripe to ''revisit'' the issue of full convertibility of the currency on the capital account, and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), has already set in motion the process, by appointing former deputy governor of the central bank, S.S. Tarapore, to once again take a call on the issue of free float of the rupee.

Tarapore''s earlier recommendations in 1997 – laying the roadmap for full convertibility of the rupee three years down the road - had to be abandoned after the Asian financial meltdown later that year. But the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government appears set to pursue this course, and take it to it logical end: convertibility of the rupee on the capital account.

The rupee is now virtually fully convertible on the capital account for NRIs, but resident Indians still face restrictions on repatriating funds abroad. The RBI had about two years ago introduced the Liberalised Remittance Scheme, enabling resident individuals to freely remit up to $25,000 per calendar year for any permissible current or capital account transactions, or a combination of both.

The individual can acquire and hold immoveable property or shares or any other asset outside India without the prior approval of the RBI.

Of course, $25,000 will not go a long way while investing in a property in Zurich or New York. But careful planning would enable an affluent Indian family of four to comfortably acquire a plush apartment in Dubai, like the ones being developed by ETA Star, which is promoting the $330 million Taj Exotica Resort & Spa and the Grandeur Residences project at the Palm Jumeirah Crescent in Dubai.

The company has entered into a management contract with Taj Exotica, part of the Tata-controlled Indian Hotels Company Ltd. While the property is being developed (and owned) by ETA Star, Taj will manage the resort, the spa, and also the 200 fully-furnished apartments and villas.

Dubai, one of the most dynamic states in the United Arab Emirates (and also in the Middle East) is witnessing a veritable property boom, with projects worth a whopping $100 billion being executed both by the public and private sectors.

The Palm is a landmark project - envisaging the creation of the world''s three largest manmade islands, the Palm Jumeirah, the Palm Jebel Ali and the Palm Deira - and one of the biggest property development projects in the world today. Nakheel, a leading property development firm in Dubai, which alone is developing $12 billion worth of projects in the emirate, is promoting the Palm project.

The three, palm-tree shaped islands are expected to increase Dubai''s shoreline by over 500 km, and provide luxurious homes to over half a million people. With its limited population, the Dubai government had to go in for radical changes in the land laws, allowing expatriates and foreigners to acquire properties in the emirate. India, with its growing number of dollar millionaires is one of the key markets for Dubai developers hawking properties in the emirate.

According to Junaid, the project is expected to be operational by 2009. With many Indian businessmen travelling frequently to Dubai - and paying between $300 and $500 a day for hotel rooms - they would find it an attractive proposition to acquire an apartment or a villa at the new development.

The Grandeur Residences comprise one, two and three-bedroom apartments, besides four-bedroom villas, and are being sold at between $520,000 to $3.5 million. The residential units offer stunning views of the sea and feature an array of amenities including a spa, health clubs, restaurants and 24-hour security.

Considering the amenities that are being offered the price tag appears affordable for many Indian businessmen. Recently, a chartered accountant paid an unbelievable Rs.40,000 for a sq ft of built-up space in Mumbai''s tony Cuffe Parade, acquiring a 3,000 sq ft apartment in an existing building for about Rs.12 crore (about $2.65 million).

A similar sized apartment - but with international standard amenities, and minus the neighbourhood slums, dug-up roads, and atrocious civic amenities - can be had in Dubai at about half the price. So real estate analysts expect a good response from affluent Indians to the offer from Dubai''s ETA Star.

India''s leading property development group, the Hiranandanis, has already teamed up with ETA Star and is putting up a 90-storied edifice, the ''23 Marina,'' in the Dubai Marina.

"I foresee Dubai being the Monte Carlo of the world in a few years and our development has been designed to cater to that kind of clientele," said Darshan Hiranandani, director, Hircon LLC, the group subsidiary. "We believe that representing India in Dubai at this juncture is the beginning of an experiment to build better communities beyond India''s borders."

Interestingly, the Dubai firm is also investing large amounts in developing projects in India. According to P.H.M. Syed Ismail, director, ETA Star, it has set up ''land banks'' in Bangalore and Chennai, acquiring hundreds of acres of land in recent months. The group has invested $100 million in India so far, and hopes to invest another $200 million over the next few years.

"We plan putting up IT parks, residential townships and other facilities in these two cities," he explains. "We have properties along the IT corridors in Bangalore and Chennai. We are also taking up a residential project in Juhu in Mumbai, and will be taking up projects in Delhi, Kolkata and Pune."

Other Dubai-based property developers who have taken up major property projects in India include Emaar Properties, which is developing the sprawling Hyderabad International Convention Centre, a business-cum-leisure facility, and has announced the largest foreign direct investment (FDI) of $500 million in the Indian real estate sector.

Emaar has joined hands with Delhi-based MGF Developments, and plans to take up $5 billion worth of projects in Haryana, Punjab, Maharashtra, and the four southern Indian states over the next few years.

For the Taj group, the tie-up with ETA Star provides an excellent opportunity to expand its overseas drive. According to Raymond N. Bickson, managing director and chief executive officer, Indian Hotels Company Ltd, "the launch of this project is in keeping with the group''s strategy to expand into the key gateway cities of the world."

The group has a strategic presence in luxury residences through Taj Wellington Mews in Mumbai and 51 Buckingham Gate in London, besides residential complexes in other cities.

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