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India's high earners fuel demand for high-rise luxury

The heart of Mumbai city, once a cotton mill hub, is seeing a rapid change in its skyline as more than 30 skyscrapers are mushrooming out of slumland in the city's most congested district.

The transformation reflects the breakneck pace of growth in Asia's third largest economy, as India's property and capital markets boom and developers build dream homes for a rapidly-growing list of Indian millionaires.

Most of these high-rises, all over 40-storeys, are under construction while some are ready for owners to move in.

Aashish, a successful Mumbai corporate director in his mid-40s, is eager to live in the lap of luxury with commanding views of the Arabian Sea.

But he won't have to leave the chaos, noise and congestion of India's financial capital to find his dream home and the peace and quiet he craves.

Instead of new builds in the far-flung suburbs, the construction of upscale homes is now rapidly taking place in the city, as tracts of now-defunct cotton mill land are being freed up for development by the state government.

"Peace and quiet, something which enhances life for my family," is what Aashish says led him to buy a luxury flat measuring more than 4,000 square feet (370 square metres) in the 80-storey Orchid Heights in downtown Jacob Circle.

The twin towers, sprouting up near a mass of railway tracks, low-rise tenements and choking traffic, are under construction.

Those behind the project say that people like Aashish, a director with one of India's leading telecom companies who asked for his real name not be used, are their prime targets alongside chief executives and entrepreneurs.

"Mumbai has no option but to grow vertical," said senior architect Deepak Hiremath of Mumbai-based Disha Direct, which designs and sells second homes.

"Mumbai's architecture will be influenced by that seen in Dubai," he told AFP.

DB Realty, one of India's leading property developers, calls people like Aashish a "retreat seeker" - a successful businessman who wants to enjoy his wealth in privacy.

He and others like him will pay nearly two million dollars for a designer apartment, built in a complex that boasts private cinemas, swimming pools, floodlit tennis courts, banqueting rooms and high-level security.

One of the most prestigious upcoming projects is Lodha Developers' "World One", a 117-storey colossus which will soar 1,450 feet (442 metres) - with green spaces, cafes and an open-to-air observatory - by 2014.

It will be one of the world's tallest residential buildings, containing apartments costing as much as 14 million dollars.

Another luxury venture, the exclusive Lodha "Bellisimo" has started to receive residents who have been hand-picked for their suitability, said a company official.

The phenomenon - a stark sign of the gap between rich and poor in Mumbai, where 55 percent of the estimated 18 million population live in slum areas - is being replicated across India's crowded cities.

At least 29 luxury projects have been launched in six leading cities - New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata and Pune - since the end of the global slump of 2008.

"Demand is sustainable," Shahid Balwa, chief executive of DB Realty, told AFP.

"The size of the market is very large. Mumbai can absorb between 30,000 to 40,000 homes in the one million dollar-plus category, each year."