G. L. RAHEJA
PADMA VIBHUSAN - next
A little over 50 years ago, a young man came to Mumbai after Partition, leaving all his possessions on the other side of the border, and surviving on practically nothing – in the words of his son Sandeep, at that time, his father had a salary of Rs. 250, a desk on a staircase landing, a home that was a part of a refugee camp, and meals consisting of chana and bread.
On July 29, 2009 the real estate industry came out in full force to pay a tribute to this extraordinary man – G. L. Raheja, Chairman, K Raheja Constructions, creator of some of Mumbai's best-known landmarks, the moving force behind many path-breaking real estate policies, the guiding light of various industry associations, and a man many think of as 'guruji.'
When the Maharashtra Chamber of Housing Industry (MCHI), in its 28th year, conferred its first-ever Life-time Achcievement Award to Mr. Raheja, the spacious Regal Room at Hotel Trident was packed, with many of Mumbai's top developers having to stand, quite willingly, for more than two hours. After the function ended, when they cut a cake and shouted 'Three cheers for G. L.' you could tell the affection was genuine.
It was an occasion to remember. Several leading developers were present, of course – Niranjan Hiranandani, Mofatraj Munot, Mayur Shah, Dharmesh Jain, Sukhraj Nahar, Pune-based Kumar Gera and Lalit Kumar Jain, to name a few – but there were other luminaries too, among them, finance industry stalwarts like Deepak Parekh, Chanda Kochhar, and Uday Kotak. Various city officials, past and present, took time off to attend including municipal commissioner Jairaj Phatak, Thane's municipal commissioner Nandkumar Jantre, MMRDA's Ratnakar Gaikwad, former municipal commissioner D. M. Sukhthankar, and directore-general of police P S Pasricha. Chief minister Ashok Chavan was present, and so was “old friend” Sushil Kumar Shinde, former Maharashtra CM and currently Union minister for power.
As the unassuming Mr. G. L. Raheja listened, with a slightly embarrassed smile, various speakers extolled the different facets of his personality and achievements. In his welcome address, Pravin Doshi, president, MCHI, said : “I am touched, the builder fraternity has come in such large numbers, but G. L. Raheja's name is such, that everyone has to come. This is an event that people will remember; it will be written in the history of MCHI in letters of gold.”
Pointing out that Mr. Raheja had been an intrinsic part of a growing industry, and had in fact, made a huge difference to it, Mr. Doshi spoke of the new trend of openness that had come in. “The city has given us the chance to grow and the real estate industry must repay it. 'Homes for all' is our target,” he said. He also expressed confidence that with Maharashtra government's support, in five years there would be adequate stock of housing, with a minimum of five lakh houses being built through public-private partnership.
“When a lifetime achievement award is presented normally, the person retires.” Mr. Doshi added, “but we will not allow Mr. G. L. Raheja to retire!” As Mr. Raheja later revealed, he had, in fact, asked if MCHI could postpone this award by 10 years, so that he could continue working!
ICICI managing director Chanda Kochhar referred to the description of G L Raheja as the 'pitamaha' of real estate, and pointed out that while this meant 'grandfather', in Mr. Raheja's case, it also referred to 'one who has nurtured generations.' She also used the occasion to make some general comments about the “green shoots” of recovery the industry was beginning to see, and exhorted developers to play a dual role – take advantage of the recovery and also catalyse it. “In India, millions need homes and if they are available at afforedable prices, we will see growth come back,” she said.
Mr. D M Sukhthankar said he first got to know Mr. Raheja when, as municipal commissioner, he examined his proposals. “I realized that he was very open, observed all rules and regulations and did not cut corners,” said Mr. Sukhthankar. “Though he came from adverse circumstances, he never strayed from the right path; he had self-imposed standards and a code of conduct he prepared for himself.”
Mr. Kumar Gera, chairman, CREDAI, spoke of how Mr. Raheja still had the energy and passion of a young man, and referred to the help he had provided when 11 years ago, industry representatives had formed this national body of developers associations, and asked Mr. Raheja to be chairman.
Dr. Ramakant Panda, chairman, Asian Heart Institute, touched upon another aspect – his philanthropy. “In the last two years, at Asian Heart, not a single person who is poor has walked away without the required surgery, thanks to Mr. Raheja,” he said. Others like Rajni Ajmera, immediate past president, CREDAI, and solicitor Kirit Damania spoke of his ethics.
Little known aspects of Mr. Raheja's contribution to the industry came out in talks by Niranjan Hiranandani and Sushil Kumar Shinde. Referring to Mr. Raheja as his “guru”, Mr. Hiranandani spoke of how it was Mr. Raheja who had first thought of concepts like Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) and floating FSI back in the '70s. The scrapping of Urban Land Ceiling Act was another idea Mr. Raheja had thought about. “He walks the talk without talking too much,” Mr. Hiranandani declared.
Meanwhile, Sushil Kumar Shinde, who knew him since 1974, spoke of how Mr. Raheja wanted a market for the suburbs, that would “look like New York.” Linking Road was his idea, Mr. Shinde said. Mr. Shinde also spoke of how Mr. Raheja had worked towards broader roads, higher FSI and a building code.
Chief Minister Ashok Chavan was also all praise, saying that all Maharashtra was proud of this simple, modest, shy man who had done so much.
The highlight of the evening, naturally, was Mr. G. L. Raheja's own speech. Mr. Raheja is know for shying away form the limelight, and as he got up – quite reluctantly – to speak, there was an expectant hush until someone shouted, “We want at least five minutes!” “I have only been given three minutes to speak,” Mr. Raheja responded, smiling. Then he said, “I am deeply touched and moved by the love, affection and kind words the speakers have showered upon me . . . . .
“With all humility,” he added, his voice briefly choked with emotion, “I dedicate this award to my wife Sheila. You are with me always.”
Mr. Raheja also mentioned his children Sandeep, who is “ably managing affairs” and his daughters Savita and Sonali; Vasantdada Patil, who was a “well-wisher and the best friend I ever had”; and his own father, late Lachmandas Raheja, from who he had learned the first rule of the real estate business – “it takes hands to build a house, but construct a home with your heart.”
In his vote of thanks, Dharmesh Jain, CMD, Nirmal Lifestyle, said that according to their research, developers have given Mumbai 80% of its gardens, 50% of schools, 30-40% hospitals and most civic amenities. He also observed that Mr. Raheja, who had been a role model for the industry, had appeal across generations, and should be nominated for the Padma Vibhushan.”
It was a suggestion with which most people heartily agreed.
Mofatraj Munot, Chairman Kalpataru Limited
He is one of the most respected personalities in the Indian real estate industry and personally I respect him a lot. A very knowledgeable person, he has great foresight about the way things should move. His thoughts are very futuristic. He has an in-depth knowledge about all the laws and regulations of the business. It is a pleasure being associated with him. What is most humbling is his concerns about the issues of housing for the common man
Mayur Shah, Honorary Secretary, MCHI and MD, Marathon Group
In the span of fifty years, G L Raheja, who started his journey from scratch, has grown to becoming one of the most respectable names in the real estate sector. He has been a practicing architect and a civil engineer so he is technically very strong, with clear concepts. He was the first to bring multiplexes in Mumbai in the 1960's and 70's; such was his vision, innovation in design and progressive approach. He has also formulated many important associations under his leadership MCHI being one of them. He is a living legend.
Sukhraj Nahar, Chairman, Nahar Group
G L Raheja is a fine human being and has brought valuable inputs to the sector. He has not only done commendable work but has also formed important associations under his leadership. This is the first time that a deserving developer has been felicitated for his work and this gives an encouragement to others too in the industry to do good work.
Ashok Mohanani, Chairman & Managing Director, EKTA Supreme Housing
At the onset, we at EKTA Supreme would like to congratulate Mr. Raheja for his successful stint in the Real Estate industry. He can indisputably be called the father of the Indian Real Estate Industry. With over 2000 projects and five decades of experience, he has definitely improved the learning curve of our fraternity. He entrusted me with developing Raheja Estate in Borivali and Lake Homes in Powai which was a big honour for me. He is an institution in himself and very generous.
Dharmesh Jain, Vice-president, MCHI and CREDAI and CMD, Nirmal Lifestyle
Mr. G L Raheja is like a guru to all of us. He is among the most humble people I have met and a very nice person. He has become a legend and has made Raheja a number one brand in the real estate industry. He is very approachable and helpful to people. He is popular among the old as well as new generations. It's a pleasure working with him and I have learned a lot from him.
Rasesh Kanakia, MD, Kanakia Spaces
I have always seen Mr. G L Raheja as my role-model in the way he conducts his business and with such a vision. I have been going to MCHI meetings for nearly ten years now and have watched him closely. He is a man of very few words, but very important words and sets the direction for the real estate industry, through very innovative policies that he comes up with at MCHI meetings. He is a forward thinking man, much ahead of his times.