AYODHYA: As reality bites realty across cities, property prices in Ayodhya have defied the pandemic-induced slowdown to almost double in the span of just over a month since the Ram temple “bhoomi pujan” in August. This is not counting the 30-40% appreciation between the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit nine months ago and the temple ceremony last month.

“Property rates even in Ayodhya’s hinterland have shot up to Rs 1,000-1,500 per sq ft. In the heart of the town, the rates are currently in the range of Rs 2,000-3,000 per sq ft,” property consultant Rishi Tandon told TOI. “Before the Supreme Court verdict, one could easily buy land in Ayodhya town for less than Rs 900 a sq ft.”

The immediate trigger for this unprecedented demand for land was the announcement of large infrastructure projects, 3-star hotels and an international airport by UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, who also promised to turn the pilgrimage town into “India’s Vatican”.

Although Ayodhya has occupied the political centre-stage for decades, the state of infrastructure in the temple town belied its importance. The nearest hotel was 6km away, in Faizabad city. Land rates on the town’s outskirts mirrored the lack of amenities, with the going rate being Rs 300-450 per sq ft.

While land isn’t exactly being gobbled up, this has more to do with the state government’s plan to acquire large parcels for various projects. Prospective buyers are wary of their investment getting frozen if they buy land for a premium and it is later acquired by the state, Tandon said.

“This is the flip side of the boom. If new landowners are paid as per the current circle rates, which haven’t increased, they would suffer big losses. Hence the hesitation.”

Property liasioning agent Saurabh Singh said the local administration had already put land registry strictures in place. Also, many properties have disputed ownership and the majority of plots tagged for sale are wetlands near the Saryu that are under the watch of the National Green Tribunal. While some buyers want land for purely religious purposes like setting up dharmshalas and community kitchens, many are looking at it as a future-proof investment.

Delhi-based real estate consultant Imran Rasool said he wasn’t surprised by the scramble for a piece of Ayodhya. “People from across India, and all income groups, now want property in the temple town. The rates are market driven, albeit unheard of elsewhere amid the still raging pandemic.” But Om Prakash Singh, executive counsellor of Awadh University, cautioned against jumping onto the bandwagon. “Top bureaucrats, police officers and politicians are in the race to buy land. Benami properties have further jacked up prices,” he said.