Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries Ltd. Photo: AFP
Mukesh Ambani, the chairman of India's Reliance Industries. Photo: AFP

India added 50 new billionaires, while 10 dropped out, amid the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, even as most households in the country faced financial distress due to the closure of businesses, job losses and pay cuts after lockdowns and travel restrictions crippled economic activity.

According to the latest list published by the Hurun Report Inc, the country is now home to 177 billionaires, while there are 32 Indian-origin billionaires residing abroad.

Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani topped the list of Indian billionaires, followed by Adani Group founder-chairman Gautam Adani. Ambani’s wealth grew 24% last year and is estimated to be at $83 billion, while Adani’s wealth almost doubled to $32 billion last year.

LN Mittal, the London-based CEO of ArcelorMittal led the list among the Indian-origin billionaires and figured fourth in the overall list with a net worth of $19 billion.

The other prominent names among the top five Indian billionaires include Shiv Nadar, founder of information technology major HCL Technologies, who figured third in the list with a net worth of $27 billion. Cyrus S Poonawalla, founder of Serum Institute of India, which is currently involved in the mass production of the AstraZeneca vaccine to fight Covid-19, figured fifth in the list with a net worth of $18.5 billion.

The new additions to this list include Nikhil Kamath of Zerodha, a financial services startup and the country’s biggest online stock broker, Pankaj Munjal of Hero Cycles, a prominent two-wheeler manufacturer.

The dropouts include Ritesh Agarwal, founder of hospitality startup Oyo Hotel and Homes, who suffered a steep erosion of wealth as lockdowns and travel restrictions badly affected hospitality industry. Another prominent dropout is Kishore Biyani, the founder of ailing retail chain Future Group.

India’s financial capital Mumbai has 61 billionaires, followed by New Delhi (40), while 37 billionaires are from the healthcare industry, 26 are from the consumer goods sector.

Income loss

Meanwhile, the National Statistical Office has projected that India’s per capita gross domestic product for the current fiscal year will drop below 100,000 rupees for the first time since 2016-17. As per the first advance estimate of national income, the per capita gross domestic product in 2020-21 will drop 8.7% to 99,155 rupees, as against 108,620 rupees in the preceding fiscal year. In 2016-17, when the government had demonetized high-value currency notes, it had fallen to 94,751 rupees.

A report by Oxfam said the pandemic increased existing inequalities in the country. It said the pandemic stalled the economy, forcing millions of poor Indians out of jobs, while the richest billionaires in India increased their wealth by 35%. India’s large informal workforce was the worst hit as they had relatively fewer opportunities to work from home. Nearly 50 million seasonal migrant workers, who work in construction sites and factories, were badly hit.