The very wealthy are extremely efficient at keeping their exact net worth out of public glare. Using trusts, limited liability partnerships and other such legal structures, the rich manage to not only grow their wealth but also keep their net worth out of scrutiny of jealous rivals, pesky journalists and tax-happy governments. In general, most billionaires in India (and globally) are likely to have a vastly higher net worth than what is calculated by the various lists that come out periodically.
But while it is impossible to say with any degree of accuracy how rich the seriously rich are - or even how many dollar multimillionaires and billionaires are there around the world or in India - some broad numbers are available.
The Credit Suisse Research Institute's Global Wealth Report of 2016 estimated that there were at least 2,260 individuals with a net worth of over $50 million, and around 1,040 individuals who are worth more than $100 million.
Though the CSRI data does not cover the full financial year, other studies suggest that the year gone by was not a great one for the high net worth individuals in India. One reason was, of course, demonetisation, though no one, including the government, has any estimate about how much the seriously rich held as cash for which taxes were not being paid. But demonetisation did hit the property market - a great favourite for the wealthy. And that would have impacted their net worth as well.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that demonetisation hit the luxury market in India as well because a good part of luxury consumption in India took place through cash transactions. But in general, the very rich can afford to put such events aside as minor annoyances and keep on splurging - one reason why so many luxury brands are setting up shop in India. The really rich Indians buy their luxury products from both Indian luxury retail destinations as well as those abroad, so luxury sales in India is not a proper indicator of the population of the really wealthy.
The consumption of luxury has changed over the years both in India and globally. At one point, the really rich revelled in excesses and loved flaunting their wealth. Today, privacy and discreet luxury is much more favoured as is sustainable luxury. Indeed, the really wealthy want to keep their lives (and, of course, wealth) out of public gaze as far as possible. There is also a shift away from products to experiences. The really rich have all the luxury products already - they are increasingly interested in special experiences normal mortals cannot experience. And also about how they protect their wealth and keep their money away from prying eyes.
Read about these and other trends in our annual luxury special.