Thursday, March 10, 2011

7 in world's 100 richest. What about India's 'hidden' billionaires?

The number of Indians in the annual Forbes rich list came as no surprise. But stud farm owner Hasan Ali Khan wasn't among the seven Indians in the Top 100.

Khan, who insists he earns a modest living as a scrap metal merchant, is accused of illegally stashing billions of dollars in overseas accounts.

Media reports suggest the Pune-based businessman will have to cough up 620 billion rupees in tax evasion penalties. That's over $1.3 billion -- and may be just a fraction of Khan's net worth.

A fortune of $9 billion is good enough for a place in this year's Forbes Top 100 list. Does that mean India is home to more such 'hidden' billionaires?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Somebody save Delhi's Airport Express

And you better do it quick. The Airport Metro guys aren't too happy with the way things are going for the New Delhi Airport Express. Two weeks after its launch, just about 6,000 people have been hopping on board every day.

No great shakes if you consider the other Metro train network -- yup, the slower one which is always crammed with people -- ferries some 1,500,000 commuters daily.

When the Airport Express opened, I was one of the few who made a beeline for the Dwarka Sector 21 station to fully experience its snazziness.

It was Day 2 and so I didn't get a Metro souvenir, a garland or even a petal. Those were gifts reserved for the lucky souls who used the airport Metro on the first day. I did get plenty of stares though, being the only commuter in sight -- the rest were all Metro employees.

After I bought a token for Shivaji Stadium (inaugural fare 80 rupees), I walked to the security line where a burly guard stood next to the X-ray baggage scanner. When the guard asked a fellow employee to switch it on, I guessed there hadn't been too many commuters before I walked in.

I turned a corner and used the stairs to descend to the platform level below and was relieved to find a fellow commuter waiting below. Yup, it isn't really fun to walk on a deserted platform and ride a ghost train, is it? More commuters walked in while I waited.

The Metro Express runs every 20 minutes and soon enough, the glass doors opened and I had stepped inside the train for my debut journey on the Airport Express. As I whizzed past the dark tunnels, my eyes took in the shining screens with station info, the spacious luggage racks and the blue-hued cushioned seats. Not to forget the liveried Airport Express stewards who could answer all passenger queries. Surely a boon for foreign tourists, some of whom were on the train, trying to find the quickest possible route to Ramakrishna Ashram.

A lot more people got in at the Airport station. I noticed the train halted there for a couple of minutes -- possibly for the benefit of passengers with heavy luggage.

Shortly afterwards, the train moved to the elevated section of the line. From inside the Metro, you realise why this part of India's capital is so beautiful, especially with the spacious roads and the lush greenery of Delhi Cantonment.

Don't miss the imposing Manekshaw Centre which looms on the left. A station later (Dhaula Kuan, which is still under construction), the Metro hurtles into Delhi's Ridge area and then descends underground once more. Next stop Shivaji Stadium where I get off astounded -- I had covered the distance in less than 20 minutes. As the Metro sped off towards the New Delhi railway station, its final destination, I explored the station complex -- a shining steel structure which seemed festooned with escalators and elevators.

Given the staff strength, commuters would find it difficult to conjure up enough paan stains and spit to sully the complex. And I sure hope they won't, because destroying something as world-class as this would be unpardonable.

Will I take the Airport Metro again? Yes, but not too frequently. The Dwarka Sector-21 station is a bit out of the way for me -- they will have to start more feeder buses within Dwarka before they win me over. Also, from Shivaji Stadium, it takes me another 15 minutes to walk to my office on Barakhamba Road. But on the whole, the Airport Express is a boon for frequent fliers and train passengers, and of course a joyride to be enjoyed by lovers of Delhi.

More info on Airport Express fares, stations here

Related posts from Toe Knee's blog

An ode to the Delhi Metro
Reflections from the Delhi Metro
Surviving Delhi's Bus Rapid Transit Corridor Part I
Surviving Delhi's Bus Rapid Transit Corridor Part II
Surviving Delhi's Bus Rapid Transit Corridor Part III

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