Can a residential place in a narrow, dingy, unhygienic lane of north Kolkata be more expensive than commercial place in Nariman Point of Mumbai that regularly ranks among the most expensive spots in the world? Appears impossible, unless one is referring to the red light area of Sonagachhi where a 8 ft X 6 ft pigeonhole without a dedicated toilet is available on rent for nothing less than Rs. 1 lakh.
The rent per square foot in many of the buildings works out to more than Rs. 2,000, several times more than the Rs. 300- 400 range in Nariman Point, or R140150 range in Barakhamba Road in New Delhi, the most premium spots in the country. In Kolkata’s central business district, the rents range from a ‘measly’ Rs. 85 to Rs. 100 per sq ft including service charge.
While it is by no means an indication of the overall real estate rents and prices in Kolkata, a visit to this oldest and largest red light area of the city throws up interesting rent scenario.
More shock can be in store as a 50 sq ft room with an attached toilet can be available for a monthly rent of R2 to 2.5 lakh. “All dealings are in cash and in most cases there are no records of tenancy (receipts, agreements etc) at all. Owning a house here is so profitable that none wants to sell, no matter what price you offer. Through our efforts now sex workers get proper deals,” says Bharati Dey secretary of Durbar Mahilla Samanvaya Committee.
According to this NGO estimates there are over 250 houses in the area and about 10,000 to 12,000 sex workers. The ‘abnormal’ rent originates from the simple pulls and pressures of demand and supply.
“It is indeed a paradox that this place is the most expensive in the city. The reason is that space is limited and sex workers are many. The area has not expanded, but the number of sex workers are growing every year,” Dey told HT.
“We charge a minimum of Rs. 2,200- 2,400 for one hour. If we get four to five customers a day, we can keep a tidy sum for ourselves even after paying rent, touts and toughs,” said Kareena, a sex worker.
The high profile houses popularly known as Agrawali houses are the most expensive. Buildings with names like ‘Night Lovers’, ‘Prem Bandhan’, ‘Ganga Jamuna’, ‘Neel Kamal’ which showcases high-profile sex workers are the most expensive. Apart from the rent nothing is premium. Overflowing vats and storm drains, flies and rotten food marks the area. Many of the buildings are dark, dingy with no room for wind and sunlight. There is a constant stench around the area with the entire area teeming with drunks at all hours of the day.
A cursory visit to different buildings on Abinash Kabiraj Street, Imam Baux lane, Durgacharan Mitra Street and Tablapatti threw up interesting extensions of this trend.
“I pay Rs. 300 a month for a single electric point that lights a tube light, Rs. 200 for the fan and Rs. 200 a plug point for charging cell phone. If one brings a television set she has to pay Rs. 500,” said Reshmi (name changed), an ordinary (non-premium) sex worker at Abinash Kabiraj Street. Payments are made on monthly and even on daily basis.
“We just give the room on rent sometimes even to fourfive sex workers who stay and conduct business in one room. In some cases, the owner takes rent on a per head basis to maximise his income,” said Anup Dey (name changed) a house owner.
However, prices of commodities are slightly higher than normal rate, which includes vegetables and fruits in these areas.
Many of the sex workers however frequent local markets to buy items at normal rate.