Luxury mall showcases wealth gap in India

Tue Oct 14, 2008 1:07am EDT
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By Krittivas Mukherjee NEW DELHI (Reuters) - With gold-plated ceilings, exotic fountains and the clink of champagne glasses, the Emporio Mall in New Delhi is the perfect place to wile away a hot afternoon browsing through designer boutiques.

The mall, adorned with palms and scented with lavender, is the exclusive playground of India's rich, which despite the effects of the credit crisis still have plenty of cash to buy designer accessories with thousand dollar price tags.

Getting access to this little piece of air conditioned paradise amid the hustle and bustle of the sweltering capital will cost $5. That's about one week's salary for 80 percent of India's billion plus population.

With a phalanx of security guards keeping out the destitute and a pricey admission fee, some social observers see India's first luxury mall as a symbol of an economic apartheid that they say increasingly divides the 'haves' and 'have nots' in India.

"The conditions, the ground conditions are not like those of Western cities," said Satish Deshpande, professor of sociology at the Delhi School of Economics.

"So, we are tending more and more toward a kind of apartheid, a kind of separation that is very sharp and sharply visible in our cities, in gated communities."

The widening wealth gap has major implications for India, which faces a general election next year, and has been plagued by waves of violence in its provinces that analysts say is at least partly due to the socioeconomic divide alienating segments of society.

The issue is likely to play a central role in next year's general election in which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Congress party will seek re-election.

The party took power in a coalition government four years ago on a platform of more 'inclusive growth' for India's 'have nots', a promise upon which it has mostly failed to deliver.   Continued...

<p>Employees adjust products inside their showroom at the Emporio mall in New Delhi September 9, 2008. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi</p>