In the last four weeks as Sathya Sai Baba battled for his life, the pilgrim town of Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh recorded no new land registrations, a stark shift from the usual substantial land deals. “There are only enquires, no new buyings,” said D Chandrasekhar, a resident and real estate agent of Puttaparthi in Anantapur district.
Land rates in Puttaparthi skyrocketed in recent years, and till recently an acre of land near Sai Baba’s ashram, Prasanthi Nilayalam, cost as much as Rs. 2 crore. Land on the main street, which houses the sprawling ashram, is virtually beyond the reach of common man, with rates touching almost Rs. 12 crore per acre. Even in nearby villages like Brahmanapalli, seven km from Puttaparthi, an acre of land costs Rs. 50 lakh.
But after the demise of Sai Baba on Sunday real estate developers are not so sure what the future holds for them. “The demise came as a shock to us as no one thought Baba would leave now. Some bought land, taking loans at very high interests. We do not know about future but as of now it appears bleak,” said Sriram Naik, a property agent in Brahmanapalli.
The town was a favourite retreat and retirement haven among Sai Baba’s devotees, estimated at 37 million worldwide. Devotees aspired to own land, apartments and even villas close to Sai Baba’s ashram, Prasanthi Nilayalam, all for a glimpse of the spiritual leader. The huge demand meant luxurious villas replacing the thatched huts and high-rise apartments finding buyers in no time.
Deepa Narayanaswamy came from Atlanta with her husband and children four years ago and settled down in Puttaparthi. She bought a bungalow for Rs. 50 lakh near Brahmanapalli. “It was Baba’s divine call that brought us here,” Narayanaswamy said. Builders are hoping such devotees continue to make a beeline to the town, despite Sai Baba’s death. Suresh Choudhary, whose seven-floor apartment complex is near construction, is optimistic. “Sai Baba created a spiritual atmosphere which is enough for his devotees to settle here. Sooner or later, the flats will be taken,” said Choudhary.