Sun, Aug 19, 2007 - Page 11 News List

Indian tycoon's dream house runs into trouble


The design specifications for the new dream home of Indian industrialist Mukesh Ambani feature everything a billionaire might desire.

The glass-and-steel vertical palace in India's financial hub Mumbai will tower 173m, have three helipads, indoor and outdoor pools and six floors of parking space for a fleet of 168 luxury cars.

Dubbed Mumbai's answer to New York's grandiose Trump Tower built by billionaire Donald Trump, it will be double the 14 stories of the petrochemicals tycoon's current home.

But now the plans by the 50-year-old chief of India's biggest private company, Reliance Industries Ltd, to construct his mansion with panoramic views of Mumbai's skyline and the Arabian Sea beyond have run into trouble.

The Maharashtra State Government has branded the 2002 sale of the land to Ambani's property development firm Antilia Commercial Pvt Ltd "illegal," and the company must fight demands the sale be declared void.

"An inquiry into the land transfer deal has found truth in allegations the transfer was illegal," Maharashtra Deputy Revenue Secretary Avinash Hazare said.

There is also debate over whether the home will be a monument to India's thrusting new entrepreneurial spirit -- or just plain bad taste in a city where 60 percent of the population live in miserable slums.

Some half dozen stories of the building, designed by US architects Perkins+Will, have already been built on the land on which the Currimbhoy Ebrahim Khoja Orphanage for Muslim children stood in the late 19th century.

The government says the property is Muslim Wakf or trust land and such land given for charitable causes such as orphanages cannot be sold.

Wakf is a permanent endowment, meaning "I give to Allah."

"Only Allah can sell the land," said member of parliament Lal Jan Basha, a member of a parliamentary committee set up to look into the workings of Wakf boards throughout India.

Ambani's Antilia company has been given until next week to reply to a notice from the Maharashtra Wakf Board that asks why the plot should not be returned to it as the sale deal has been deemed illegal by the state government.

"Antilia sought more time to put forth its case but we gave them only two weeks," Wakf Board chief executive A.R. Shaikh told the Press Trust of India.

Reliance declined to comment on Friday, but Antilia had previously said the land sale was legal.

Disputes over land sales are rife in India and establishing title is often a Byzantine process.

The building, one of the most extravagant displays of wealth in recent times in India, has led critics to dub Ambani, who ranks 14th on Forbes' global rich list, a "modern day maharajah."

Amid Mumbai's soaring property prices, the building is reckoned to already be worth about a billion dollars, media reports said.

His new family pad, expected to be in move-in condition next year, will contain hanging gardens, a health club, a temple and living quarters for an army of 600 staff.

Critics say the space seems excessive for Ambani, son of a one-time gas station attendant who built a sprawling business empire that has dominated India's commerce for decades.

Ambani only lives with his wife, mother and three children.

"What will he do with all that room?" New Delhi engineer Ram Balakrishna said.

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