Steel king Lakshmi Mittal beats Ambani brothers to retain

Steel tycoon Lakshmi N. Mittal, owner of the world's largest steel group, ArcelorMittal, has topped the Indian rich list for the fourth year in a row, beating the Reliance brothers - Mukesh and Anil Ambani - with a fortune worth $51 billion, popular business and lifestyle magazine Forbes said.

According to Forbes' India's 40 Richest list for 2007, Mittal, who successfully engineered the merger between the top two steel producers in the world, Mittal Steel and Arcelor Steel Co., last year, has edged past both the Ambani brothers - Mukesh and Anil - to top the rich list, thanks to strong growth in steel demand globally.

However, Mukesh Ambani, who controls India's largest petrochemical company, Reliance Industries, is not too far behind, with a personal fortune of $49 billion, mainly due to a bull run in the Indian stock market the past two months. Last month, when share prices of Reliance Industries hit a record high, the media speculated whether he had become the richest man in the world surpassing Lakshmi Mittal, investment guru Warren Buffett, Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim Helu and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Soon afterwards, Ambani - who is building a 27-story mansion in Mumbai for his family and this month gave his wife a $60 million Airbus 319 with entertainment cabins, a sky bar and fancy showers as a birthday gift - scoffed the rumours, saying that it matters little to me whether my personal fortunes are measured in billions or millions.

Mukesh's estranged brother Anil Ambani, who owns Reliance Communications, India's third-largest mobile operator, was third with a net worth of $45 billion.

At No.4 on the India rich list is entrepreneur Kushal Pal Singh (net worth $35 billion), who has profited from the booming real estate industry in India. His company, DLF Ltd, which was listed in July, is India's largest real estate developer.

Thanks to a roaring Mumbai stock market, with a benchmark index up 53 percent in the past year, and a strong rupee that appreciated 12 percent, for the first time, all India rich-listers are billionaires. In aggregate, their wealth surged to $351 billion, a bit more than double last year's $170 billion, making India's 40 by far the wealthiest such group in all of Asia, Forbes stated in its special online report published Nov. 14.

The four richest Indians are worth an astonishing $180 billion. Together, the foursome is worth more than the 40 richest Chinese combined, Forbes writer Naazneen Karmali noted.

Out of the forty, twenty-nine of the people who returned to the list are richer than last year, the report said, with the exception of Rahul Bajaj, who is battling his younger sibling over dividing their empire, and whose fortune was flat at $2.3 billion.

Ten newcomers have made the cut this time, including Guatam Adani, who built Mundra Port on India's west coast; Anand Jain, Mukesh Ambani's school buddy; and Gautum Thapar, whose Ballarpur Industries is India's largest paper maker.

The red-hot real estate sector churned out a couple more billionaires as well: Niranjan Hiranandani, a surgeon's son, who built a thriving township in suburban Mumbai, along with his brother; and Rakesh Wadhawan, whose July listing of his company Housing Development & Infrastructure made him a billionaire, the report published on November 14, said.

The other five new entrants to the list of 40 richest Indians are Cyrus Poonawalla, L Madhusudhan Rao, Vikas Oberoi, Anu Aga and Gracias Saldanha.

To feature in the rich list of 2007, one's net worth should be minimum of $1.6 billion, up from $790 million last year. And, consequently, some of the billionaires, whose names have featured regularly in the list in the past, have failed to make the cut this time.

They are are Naresh Goyal, the founder of Jet Airways, (despite his fortune rising 55 percent to $1.55 billion), Nandan Nilekani ($1.26 billion) and Senapathy Gopalakrishnan ($1.18 billion), co-founders of India's IT bellwether Infosys Technologies, self-made billionaire Jignesh Shah ($1.37 billion), who built India's largest commodities exchange, Habil Khorakiwala ($1.23 billion) of pharmaceutical giant Wockhardt and Brijmohan Lall Munjal ($1.12 billion) of Hero Honda Motors.

Also missing from the list are pharmaceuticals entrepreneur Murali K. Divi, India's bullish investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, pharmaceutical major Cipla's Yusuf Hamied, real estate majors Parsvnath Developers and Omaxe's Pradeep Jain and Rohtas Goel respectively, Mahindra & Mahindra group's patriarch Keshub Mahindra, JM Financial's Nimesh Kampani and Pantaloon Retail's Kishore Biyani.

Besides having a minimum net worth of $1.6 billion, one must be an Indian citizen to make this list. As a result, Forbes explained, construction magnate Pallonji Mistry, Tata Sons' largest shareholder, who has become an Irish citizen has been excluded from the list.

Explaining the methodology, Forbes said that unlike our annual billionaires list, this ranking has been broadened to include family fortunes.

Net worths were calculated using Nov. 2 market prices and exchange rates. Privately held companies are valued by comparing them to similar publicly traded companies, Forbes said.

INDIA'S TEN RICHEST (net worth - industry - primary enterprise)

1. Lakshmi Mittal ($51 billion - steel - ArcelorMittal))

2. Mukesh Ambani ($49 billion - petrochemicals - Reliance Industries)

3. Anil Ambani ($45 billion - telecommunications - Reliance Communications)

4. Kushal Pal Singh ($35 billion - real estate - DLF Ltd)

5. Azim Premji ($14.8 billion - IT services - Wipro Technologies)

6. Sunil Mittal ($12.5 billion - telecommunications - Bharti Airtel)

7. Shashi & Ravi Ruia ($12 billion - diversified - Essar Group)

8. Ramesh Chandra ($11.6 billion - real estate - Unitech)

9. Kumar M. Birla ($11 billion - diversified - Aditya Birla Group)

10. Tulsi Tanti ($10 billion - wind power - Suzlon Energy)