Yes, yes, yes! The rumour that you have all heard, or haven’t but wished you had, or would have heard except that you read about it first, is true! The MCD sealing squad did visit the offices of our friendly neighbourhood, pro-sealing newspaper – The Indian Express. And, till recently, my friends at the IE were filing their stories from nearby cybercafes – possibly the same cyber cafes that night be sealed soon if they are too close to “posh category A and B South Delhi houses.”
The most recent editorial that I read in the Express (titled Bullets, Bulldozers) was soon after the Seelampur shootings and observed that “We would, therefore, urge the court to stay the course. Not just for the rule of law but for Delhi’s future. The time has also come throw out the anachronistic rent control law which has contributed immensely to skewing the property market. One of the great incentives for traders to remain where they are, is the ridiculously low rents they pay. The court should now start asking some tough questions about why Delhi has proved to be so impervious to rent reform.”
While the editorial should come as no surprise to regular readers of the journal of courage, the irony of it all makes it simply too delicious to pass up. Why, pray tell, was the Indian Express in Qutab Institutional Area in the first place? The answer lies in the very rent control act that the Express would so dearly like to see repealed.
Qutab Insitutional Area, as the name suggests, is an “institutional area” specifically marked out for non-commercial uses and not for newspapers like the Indian Express, allegedly educational organisations like IIPM or outright commercial outfits like Ernst and Young. Qutab is also under one form of rent control, where the land was leased at throw away prices to private entities as the space was never meant for commercial purposes. This translated into significantly lower rents (compared to adjoining areas) and explains the presence of the IE among others.
However, the story doesn’t end there. The plot, as it is want to, thickens. The Indian Express also has a Head Office at ITO which it owns outright – so why leave? The answer, according to an informed source who works at the Express, is because the rent at ITO is much much higher than at Qutab. So the plan was to rent out its own office as commercial space and move into the cheaper rented accomodation at Qutab and make a tidy profit on real estate. Which, according to my source, is the only way the paper will ever make any money. Unfortunately, the damned sealing squad has put paid to those plans – last heard, the Express is back at ITO.
Incidentally, the ITO office too was handed over to the Express for practically nothing for the expressed (bad pun) purpose of running a printing press. Thus, inspite of outsourcing its production to Qutab and beyond, the ITO office still maintains a token printing press to retain control over the property. I’ve heard it’s in the basement.