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2014: When India's Rich Got Richer

A look at India's billionaire boom

Published: Sep 25, 2014 03:40:16 PM IST
Updated: Sep 30, 2014 08:36:29 AM IST

After the Bharatiya Janata Party’s landslide victory in May’s general elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi famously tweeted that “good days are here”. Indeed, they’re back with a bang for India’s 100 richest. For the first time the top 100 are all billionaires, with a combined wealth of $346 billion, up more than a third from 11 months ago. Propelled by the euphoria, the stock market has gained 28 percent since January, though the economy, growing at 5.7 percent in the last quarter, has yet to catch up. Food inflation, hardly the concern of the wealthy, still hovers at close to double digits.

2014: When India's Rich Got Richer

Snatching the biggest bonanza is ports magnate Gautam Adani, who hails from Modi’s native state of Gujarat, and is known to be the PM’s personal friend. Shares of Adani’s companies started soaring ahead of the elections on hopes of a BJP victory. The gains added close to $4.5 billion to his wealth, more than anyone else. Adani, who jumped 11 spots to No 11, has since been on a buying spree: He bought a port in eastern India from the Tata Group for $900 million, and agreed to pay $1 billion for a power plant in southern India.

Fellow Gujaratis Mukesh Ambani and pharma magnate Dilip Shanghvi have also raked it in. Ambani is No 1 for the eighth year in a row, while Shanghvi, richer this year by $4.1 billion, is the new No 2, displacing steel baron Lakshmi Mittal, who slips to the fifth place. As many as 85 of the 89 who returned to the top 100 from last year are wealthier, and several are billionaires for the first time. Among them are Qimat Rai Gupta, maker of electrical fittings Havells India; VG Siddhartha, founder of the Café Coffee Day chain, India’s Starbucks; and brothers Harsh and Sanjiv Goenka, who run their independent empires and are listed separately.

The rising market restored some to the billionaire ranks, including property baron Vikas Oberoi and pharma entrepreneur Habil Khorakiwala. Pharma is on a roll: More than a fifth of the 100 have pharma and health care riches, among them half of the eight newcomers, such as Hasmukh Chudgar, whose Intas Pharmaceuticals was recently valued by Temasek at $1.4 billion. Entrepreneur PV Ramaprasad Reddy, one of the three returnees to the list, came back after four years on a three-fold jump in shares of his Aurobindo Pharma.

The biggest loser this year is Indus Gas founder Ajay Kalsi, who lost $1 billion after the government stalled an increase in the nation’s natural gas prices. With a record $1 billion as the minimum net worth this year, 11 listers from last year fell off, including Brij Bhushan Singal, whose Bhushan Steel’s shares tanked after son Neeraj was arrested in a corruption scandal. The flamboyant Vijay Mallya, who was tagged by his bankers as a “willful defaulter”, also dropped off.

(Additional Reporting By Megha Bahree, Sean Kilachand, Anuradha Raghunathan and Saritha Rai)

(This story appears in the 16 October, 2014 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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