Wealth of Indian Billionaires Rose by Over a Third During the COVID-19 Lockdown

The net worth of Indian billionaires has surged 90% since 2009 to $422.9 billion — to rank sixth in the world, after the US, China, Germany, Russia and France, respectively.

New Delhi: India’s billionaires reported a rise in their combined net worth by more than a third during the first four months of the coronavirus-induced nationwide lockdown, i.e., between April and July, defying the impact of the global economic fallout of the pandemic.

According to the Billionaires Insights Report 2020 published by UBS and PwC, the net worth of Indian billionaires between April and July increased by 35% to $423 billion.

Since 2009, the net worth of India’s billionaires surged 90% as on July 31, 2020 to rank sixth in the world, after the US, China, Germany, Russia and France, respectively.

The wealth of India’s billionaires grew only faster than their Russian counterparts – whose wealth surged 80% since 2009 to $467.6 billion – among the top ten countries, the UBS-PwC report showed.

According to the Forbes’ India Rich List 2020 released earlier this month, the net worth of India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, rose 73% over the past year to nearly $89 billion (Rs 6.52 lakh crore). This is over three times more wealth than the second richest person on the list, Gautam Adani, at $25.2 billion. With this, Ambani remains the wealthiest Indian for the 13th year in a row.

Others in this list include HCL founder Shiv Nadar, Serum Institute of India’s Cyrus Poonawalla, Biocon chairman and managing director Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, among others.

According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Reliance Industries’ (RIL) chairman Ambani became the only Asian tycoon to be among the world’s top 10 richest people.

As India heads for its worst recession, it is ironic how “fewer billionaires saw their wealth erode this year than they did in last year”, Forbes said in its report. Therefore, it is also important to note that India’s richest 1% of the population holds 42.5% of national wealth while the bottom 50% – the majority of the population, owns a mere 2.8%, showed an Oxfam report. India’s top 10% of the population holds 74.3% of the total national wealth while the bottom 90% holds 25.7% of national wealth, the report said.

“Mr. Ambani’s companies (particularly the telecom giant Jio) have prospered, and his personal wealth has increased substantially,” Jayati Ghosh, chair of the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, told the Economic Times.

The Hurun India list named the richest individuals in India having a wealth of Rs 1,000 crore or more as on August 31, 2020. The names included Ambani, Hinduja brothers (SP Hinduja, along with his three brothers) with a joint wealth of Rs 1.43 lakh crore, HCL founder Shiv Nadar with a wealth of Rs 1.41 lakh crore, among the 828 rich Indians.

The cumulative value of these 828 individuals on the 2020 list stood at $821 billion (Rs 60.59 lakh crore), up from $140 billion (Rs 10.29 lakh crore) in 2019, a large part of which was due to the rise in share price of Reliance Industries.

Also read: ‘Bad Boy Billionaires’: Of Outsized Wealth and Outsized Egos Built on Private Gain and Public Loss

For a noble cause

At least nine billionaires from the country donated $541 million for COVID-19-related causes in the form of financial donations, manufactured goods and equipment, or other commitments. That’s the most in the world after US and China, said a BloombergQuint report.

Mukesh Ambani-led RIL contributed Rs 500 crore towards PM CARES and another Rs 5 crore each towards Maharashtra chief minister (CM) and Gujarat CM’s funds, said reports. Apart from that, it also set up a 100-bed centre at Seven Hills Hospital in Mumbai for coronavirus patients.

Wipro founder chairman Azim Premji donated $132 million to curb the spread of COVID-19, according to Forbes, becoming the third-biggest donor, after Jack Dorsey and Bill Gates. Premji also topped the list of billionaires cognizant of environmental, social and corporate governance.

Overall, the world’s billionaires donated $7.2 billion in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Globally, total billionaire wealth reached a record $10.2 trillion as on July 2020 – surpassing the previous peak of $8.9 trillion in 2017-end , a report by Swiss bank UBS found. The number of billionaires has also hit a new high of 2,189, up from 2,158 in 2017.

In a Guardian report, Josef Stadler, the head of UBS’s global family office department that deals directly with the world’s richest people, said: “Billionaires did extremely well during the Covid crisis, not only [did] they ride the storm to the downside, but also gained up on the upside [as stock markets rebounded].”

The findings from the UBS report showing that the super-rich are getting even richer are a sign that capitalism isn’t working as it should, Luke Hilyard, executive director of the High Pay Centre, a thinktank that focuses on excessive pay, told the Guardian.