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Low-profile traders top I-T list of honour

In a country notorious for tax evasion — only three per cent of the entire population pay taxes; last year, it was just two per cent &#...

Written by Murali K Menon | Mumbai |
June 11, 2003

In a country notorious for tax evasion — only three per cent of the entire population pay taxes; last year, it was just two per cent — Dilipkumar Lakhi and Radhakishan Damani would certainly rate as paragons of virtue.

Lakhi and Damani, both in their early 50s, pay enough income tax to equal the annual turnover of a small-to-medium sized firm. Neither are celebrities in the conventional sense nor do they wield much influence — if it were not for the returns they file, the duo would be as anonymous as any person who passed you by on the street today.

But they are the highest individual income tax payers in Mumbai, and thereby among the highest in the country. In the previous fiscal, Lakhi is said to have paid Rs 6 crore, the highest by any person in Mumbai. And according to sources, the difference between him and Damani, who was the second highest tax-payer, is marginal. Incidentally, Mumbai’s third highest tax-payer happens to be film star Hrithik Roshan.

Radhakishan Damani has been dealing in stocks for over 30 years, though it is learnt that he has reduced his exposure of late by a considerable extent. Damani is into retailing these days, and has set up a chain of supermarket stores that dot the city’s western and central suburbs.

Both, understandably, want to remain as anonymous as possible. Phone calls to Damani’s office at Nariman Point in Mumbai ran into a wall of suspicion, scepticism and sullen silence.

Fellow stock brokers say Damani, always attired in white, is a very smart operator who, while always on the hunt for information, keeps his cards close to his chest. He is believed to prefer old economy scrips and didn’t think too much of the infotech rally that saw investors scrambling for any listed company with either a ‘Soft’ or an ‘Info’ attached to its name a couple of years back.

The soft-spoken, unassuming broker apparently made most of his money on old favourites such as ITC and Gillette. ‘‘You would hardly notice him if he walked past,’’ says a broker who’s well acquainted with Damani.

Information on diamond exporter Dilip Kumar Lakhi is relatively easier to come by. Navin Chandra Mehta, president of the Diamond Traders Association, is all praise for Lakhi, who began as a small trader and now operates out of an office at Opera House.

‘‘He is a good, pious man, who donates a lot of his income to charity every year. Lakhi is also believed to have offices in Europe and the United States.’’ Mumbai accounts for 35 per cent of the total income tax collected every year in India. The IT department’s target for the last fiscal was around Rs 91,000 crore, and collections at Rs 89,000 crore are relatively close to the figure.

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