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Indian billionaires are close-fisted on charity

March 19, 2007 09:11 IST

The 36 Indians on the 2006 Forbes list of billionaires were together worth over $190 billion. Details of their ever-expanding wealth are readily available. What is not known, and what most of these billionaires shy of talking about, is the money they spend on charity.

Information compiled by Business Standard suggests there is no Bill Gates or Warren Buffet in India -- the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has an endowment of $33 billion and Buffet has gifted it another $31 billion.

The charitable activities of Lakshmi Niwas Mittal, the richest Indian with a net worth of $32 billion (Rs 144,000 crore or Rs 1,440 billion), are little known in comparison with his stunning acquisitions of companies and real estate.

Queries sent to his London office in this regard remained unanswered, though he is known to have set up a Rs 40-crore (Rs 400 million) athlete scholarship fund and a Rs 5-crore (Rs 50-million) fund for development work in his native Churu district in Rajasthan.

Most Indian billionaires did not wish to disclose information on the charitable work they do. Only a handful were candid enough to talk.

Telecom tycoon Sunil Mittal ($9.5 billion or Rs 42,750 crore or Rs 427.5 billion), for instance, has a target of Rs 200 crore (Rs 2 billion) to be spent over the next two years, largely on education, including a school of telecommunication worth Rs 20 crore (Rs 200 million).

The charity bag of Kumarmangalam Birla ($8 billion or Rs 36,000 crore or Rs 360 billion) has Rs 90 crore (Rs 900 million) and its beneficiaries include 45 schools and 17 temples.

Azim Premji, who is worth $17.1 billion (Rs 76,950 crore or Rs 769.5 billion), has put all his charities on the net. "The Azim Premji Foundation is focused on contributing towards providing quality elementary education to every child. Our annual budget is of the order of Rs 25 crore," a Wipro spokesperson said.

A 2001 survey carried out by the Asia-Pacific Philanthropy Consortium showed that Rs 1,616 crore (Rs 16.16 billion) was donated in India that year.

In contrast, a Conference Board survey found that 211 of the largest companies and corporate foundations in the world donated Rs 44,000 crore (Rs 440 billion) in 2005, up more than 18 per cent from the previous year.

Sreelatha Menon in New Delhi
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