The City Wealth Index released on Wednesday by international property consultants Knight and Frank in their annual wealth report ranks Mumbai at 21, ahead of megapolises like Toronto, Washington DC and Moscow.
Delhi, though ahead of Asian giants like Bangkok and Jakarta (as also Seattle from another continent) trails in way behind at number 35 in the study made across 89 countries and 125 cities.
In recent years, there was this growing belief that the political capital had upstaged the country’s financial capital in every aspect, including becoming the corporate hub in post-liberalised India.
That this is untrue scores an important brownie point.
Mumbaikars have reason to feel chuffed. But after basking in some parochial triumphalism, it is pertinent to understand what this study really means.
Essentially, the City Wealth Index maps the lifestyle and investment decisions made by the super rich defined by the acronym (warning: it is a mouthful) UNHWI which when elaborated reads as Ultra High Net Worth Individuals.
The kind of decisions by UNHWIs that go into the preparation of this study include property prices paid, capacity to buy sports teams, private jets, uber-luxury/classic cars and, among other collectibles, art, wines etc.
There is enough evidence to show that this kind of consumption is increasing and fairly rapidly, led, of course, by the exorbitant rise in real estate prices (in Mumbai, anybody who owns a house anywhere is a crorepati), but not just that.
In the super rich category, marriages have been reported to cost in excess of crores of rupees. Why, even a party celebrating an anniversary or for housewarming can entail mindboggling number of zeros after an integer.
To qualify as an UNHWI one must be worth Rs200 crore or thereabouts at least. In India, Mumbai leads by a mile with 1,340 UNHWI’s. Second placed Delhi has 680. Kolkata (surprisingly for a city thought moribund where business is concerned) comes third with 280.
Among technology hubs, Hyderabad comes in fourth with 260, while Bangalore and Pune have shown a strident rise of 18 and 15 per cent respectively in growth of UNHWIs over the past year.
All this suggests high economic growth which is significant whatever the compunctions one may have about copious consumption. The trickle-down effect of such growth in India is undeniable.
However, juxtapose the Cities Wealth Index with the quality of life index and it gives a sobering reality check. For instance, none of India’s leading metros show up in the Mercer Quality Of Life Index (put out by the world’s largest human resource consulting firm) for 2016.
No Indian city features in the bottom 10 in this list, but none in the top 100 either. And the second is true of other such studies too like the EIU Livability Ranking (2014) or Monocle Quality Of Life Survey 2015.
Like rankings in sport, such studies can be somewhat misleading. But the overarching message is that quality of life — stability, crime control, effectiveness of law, health/education facilities, infrastructure — remains poor in Indian cities despite a rise in City Wealth Index.
For any development to be meaningful this is of the essence, which is what the local authority – in India’s case, municipal corporations – is empowered to achieve and should be completely immersed in.
This is where Mumbai, sadly, brings ups the rear, whatever its dramatic rise in the City Wealth Index. The BMC sits on a mammoth corpus of approximately Rs50k crore and has an annual budget of Rs37k crore. But the quality of life it ensures has been a massive let down for decades.
The recent elections have been bitterly fought with all kinds of promises made. Who will rule the BMC still has a touch of suspense about it, but where the citizenry is concerned, they have done their bit.
Will they finally get a standard of living that one of the biggest and most important metropolises in the world deserves is the question?