Tuesday, August 14, 2007

India is Asia's top spot for billionaires

From being one of the world's poorest economies six decades ago to becoming a "top spot" today, India has come a long way, Forbes says in a special report even as it lists more billionaires in India worth $191 billion than in any other Asian nation.

"India's top ten, worth $112 billion, account for two-thirds of that wealth," it says in the report 'India at 60'.

"India's rising fortunes are underscored by the increasing prosperity of its wealthiest citizens," it adds, as it lists 36 billionaires in the country.

"India was one of the world's poorest economies when it won its independence from Britain in 1947. Incredibly, 60 years later, the country's emerging economic clout has made it Asia's top spot for billionaires."

This year, for the first time in two decades of wealth tracking, Forbes counted more Indians than Japanese billionaires. Three Indians made it to the list of top 20 of the world's richest and only the US had more billionaires than India.

"We have made decent progress in several areas during the last 60 years. We have produced world-class scientists, engineers, journalists, soldiers, bureaucrats, politicians and doctors," says N R Narayana Murthy, the co-founder of one of India's best known software companies and among those in the rich list.

"There is an equally convincing set of data to show that we have a long way to go in certain other areas. A whopping 350 million are illiterate, 260 million people are still below the poverty line, 150 million people lack access to drinking water; 750 million people lack decent sanitation," he adds.

Veteran investment banker Nimesh Kampani, chairperson of the JM Financial Group and until recently, Morgan Stanley's Indian partner, predicts 100 billionaires by 2009 representing diverse fields. "There's lots more that lies beneath."

According to Forbes, it was a vastly different story in 1987 when the magazine began tracking fortunes around the world - that year the only Indian on the list was the Birla family with a net worth of close to $2 billion.

It was only in 1994 when Dhirubhai Ambani of Reliance Industries made his debut with his petrochemicals fortune. His empire has now been split between his two sons, Mukesh and Anil.

Today, London-based Lakshmi N Mittal is the richest Indian worth $25 billion, followed by Mukesh and Anil, who unseated Wipro group's chairman Azim Premji, who had been India's richest resident for several years.

"India was a relatively sleepy place for the world's wealthiest until three years ago. With just nine billionaires in 2004, none ranked higher than 58," says the magazine.

"That's when wealth began taking off, with the fast-rising stock market and booming real estate sector bringing prosperity as never before," it says, adding the sensitive index of the Bombay Stock Exchange soared from soared from 6,000 points to more than 15,000 points recently.


Forbes says many tycoons have been in the news lately for negotiating big deals. Venugopal Dhoot is set to acquire Daewoo Electronics for $700 million.

Commodities magnate Kumar Mangalam Birla paid $1 billion to buy the Tata Group's stake in their telecom joint venture Idea. Banker Uday Kotak bought out Goldman Sach's stake in his bank's investment banking and brokerage arms.


This apart, there were five newcomers in the latest Forbes list, including Kalanidhi Maran, who runs regional broadcaster Sun TV, and Ramesh Chandra, who made a fortune building middle-class housing.

Others are and Jignesh Shah, who set up India's largest commodities exchange, tractor tycoon Keshub Mahindra and Infosys Technologies co-founder K Dinesh, who returned to the list after having previously slipped off.

Yet, there were also some dropouts, including India's richest self-made woman, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw of Biocon and Anurag Dikshit, who saw the stock of his net gaming outfit, PartyGaming, tank over regulatory issues.

The Forbes special report also has other articles like "Indian Students Flock To The US", "The Indian Media Mela", "Do You Have A 'Chindia' Strategy", "India at 60" by Amartya Sen, "Hottest Wedding Spots In India" and "World's Cheapest Car
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