This big builder enters Pune with a 2 billion investment
Recently, Merlin Group forayed into Pune with a focus on commercial and residential projects. Headquartered in West Bengal, the company also has units in Ahmedabad, Raipur, Chennai and Colombo. Saket Mohta, Managing Director, Merlin Group, shares more on the company’s plans and investments in Pune, its approach towards adopting the latest technology and skilling, expansion plans and more…. Tell us more about your recent announcement of investment of Rs 2,000 crore in Pune. We will be investing Rs 2,000 crore in Pune in the next five years towards a number of commercial and residential projects. We have launched a boutique tower with offices and retail as a commercial project named Project 18 East in Koregaon Park Annexe, the business hub of Pune. We have acquired the development rights in a large parcel of land in Baner and have completed the planning of about 4 lakh sq ft of office spaces in upcoming projects and about 4.5 lakh residential area. We are working on developments with a mix of mid-segment and premium projects. Our next projects are coming up in the Wakar, Baner and Jambulwari areas. In Wakar, we will set up a mid-segment residential project of around 1.5 million sq ft with high street retail. In Baner, it will be a mix of A-grade commercial spaces and a premium residential project. In Jambulwadi, we are contemplating budget residential development. With Pune being a new focus area for the company, how are you planning your procurement activities around the city? What initial challenges do you foresee? Merlin Group has been in the real-estate field for the past four decades. We have experience of working in multiple cities and overseas, having completed projects in Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Bhubaneswar and Raipur as well as Colombo, Sri Lanka. We have an experienced team of professionals and a huge knowledge bank of the real-estate business. Our focus is to stick to growing areas and establish hubs. Pune, as a market, is still on its growth trajectory and this city has a heathy demand for both commercial and residential projects. Its indeed crucial to find the best locations for our project and while selecting a land parcel, our focus is towards overall future development potential. There has always been a dearth of skilled labourers in this industry. How do you plan to overcome this challenge and ensure skilled manpower in Pune? The construction sector is the largest contributor to the central exchequer and the second largest employer in the country. It creates more than 45 million jobs either directly or indirectly among various classes of individuals in the country. However, the industry has to work with a huge unskilled labour force; hence, skilling becomes a prime requirement. The lack of skilled workers is a long-term problem and will continue pushing costs and risks. At Merlin, we believe constant learning is essential for overall personality development and adds value to the organisation. Merlin Group offers a skill development programme of the labour force in association with CREDAI in Kolkata and we will be doing the same in Pune as well. There are many engineering institutions and construction skill training institutes in Mumbai and Pune. We will explore a collaboration with one of these organisations to skill our labour force in Pune. Further, we have safety and quality officers who are responsible for ensuring the safety of workers onsite and quality control at different stages. What is the emphasis laid on the usage of innovative construction technology, materials, software and tools? Merlin Group has always adhered to superlative technology when it comes to construction. We never compromise on quality of work. We have used technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) for building usage in terms of monitoring occupancy levels and switching systems like air-conditioning, ventilation and lighting in line with occupancy levels, thus saving huge amounts of electricity. We have also used AI for making more efficient and sustainable buildings and to plan the layout of electric and plumbing systems in modern buildings. It is being used to improve onsite safety, analyse worker movement around the site and suggest solutions for better site management. We have also been using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) for marketing activities and virtual home tours, which ruled the roost during the pandemic. AR apps are being used to virtually design a property as one can visualise how furniture and furnishings will look in real time. We are using drones for site surveys, terrain mapping, as-built data collection and facility inspection, and are clubbing this with photogrammetry software to derive a highly useful and detailed 3D replica of the surveyed terrain or existing built environment. We also use advanced concrete technology and automation and BIM. For speed and better quality, we use aluminium formwork. Tell us about the company’s current equipment bank. In Kolkata and Bhubaneswar, we have a large stock of aluminium, almost good to develop 1 million sq ft, a plant to deliver 50 cu m of RMC per day, six tower cranes (on rental), six passenger hoists, 10 concrete pumps, and other miscellaneous equipment and machinery to develop 2 million sq ft of ongoing projects. Additionally, we hire Grade-1 contractors, who also bring some machineries for projects. In Pune, we will initially buy our own formwork materials and hire contractors who will bring machineries. The geopolitical scenario has led to an increase in material costs, directly impacting project execution. How has this affected the real-estate sector? Geopolitical tensions have gripped the world with Russia and Ukraine locked in conflict. The ramifications of the tensions have been felt in India too. The realty market has been feeling the pressure of escalating prices of various raw materials primary owing to an increase in the price of petroleum products, resulting in manufacturing and transporting costs and disruptions in supply chains amid the general volatility in international markets. Moreover, with the increase in home loan rates, people are also taking time to decide. The addition of the Metro Cess from April 1 has impacted sales in realty market in Pune. However, life is back to normal post the pandemic and companies have started their offices. Thus, there will be a requirement of office spaces and we are feeling quite confident about our projects in Pune. We see Merlin Group shifting to shopping malls, resorts, industrial estates and clubs. What has been the driving factor behind this decision? Merlin Group has innovated with various formats and core projects, including premium housing, essential housing, country homes and bungalows, specialty malls, office towers, IT buildings, hotels, new-generation clubs and resorts, serviced apartments, stadiums and townships. The company has developed over 20 million sq ft of prime commercial, residential and retail space in India along with international operations in Colombo. It has delivered over 100 projects. Our motto is to build quality products and provide a unique experience to our esteemed customers. Please tell us about the company’s current land bank and your plans to utilise the same. How do you see the company’s business growth in the next five years? The group possesses a land bank of over 500 acre across India. We will be coming up with residential and commercial projects in Wakad, Baner and Jambhulwadi in Pune. In upcoming projects, we have over 30 lakh sq ft of development planned in the city. We are in the process of acquiring more land parcels.