August 2, 2013

Money chase unites two M’s

Mumbai, Aug. 1: Amit Mitra delivered Mumbai’s business stars for Mamata Banerjee today. The question now is whether the stars will deliver for the chief minister what she wants them to: investments. 

The finance minister, saddled with the difficult task of managing Bengal’s straitened circumstances, put the full force of his persuasive skills developed during his earlier stint as Ficci secretary-general into play to get top industrialists and bankers for the meeting with the chief minister.

A beaming Mamata said later: “I am very happy at the turnout. My expectation was 100 per cent but it exceeded my expectation.” 

The chief minister — whose first investor meet in Delhi last December was a flop — had reasons to be happy as Mitra offered her both quality and quantity at the meeting at the World Trade Centre at Cuffe Parade in south Mumbai. 

In attendance were Reliance chairman Mukesh Ambani, Godrej boss Adi Godrej, JSW Group’s Sajjan Jindal, RPG Enterprise’s Harsh Goenka, Pantaloon’s Kishore Biyani and Amit Kalyani of Bharat Forge. Top bankers — Uday Kotak of Kotak Mahindra and ICICI managing director Chanda Kochhar — were at hand, too.

The most notable absentee was Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry, though one group representative did show up — N. Chandrasekharan, the managing director of TCS that has development centres in Calcutta. 

Investment is critical for Mamata, who landed in Mumbai with a massive mandate in the rural polls, because of the absence of employment opportunities. Though the Trinamul government has been claiming that it has received proposals worth over Rs 1.2 lakh crore since the change of guard in Bengal, it has little to show in terms of actual investment. 

Asked if the meeting brought forth any concrete proposal, Mamata avoided a direct reply. “It cannot be done this way. We have made our points. Bengal is a gold mine, I told them. They should now decide what to do,” she said. 

Although a meeting of this nature was not quite expected to yield tangible gains, Mamata — often portrayed as anti-industry for her Singur agitation — scored on two counts. 

First, she managed to draw a packed audience, which would help silence her critics for some time. Some industrialists The Telegraph spoke to said they had come because of Mitra. “I was at the meeting because I could not say no to Amit Mitra,” said one of them.

Mamata’s second success was winning a bouquet of praises, with one industrialist describing her after the meeting as “charming”. 

“We have seen your passion on TV, today we felt that in person as you addressed us,” Kochhar said, according to tweets by Derek O’Brien, Rajya Sabha MP and Mamata aide. 

Ambani, the biggest draw, said the fact that she had come to Mumbai within 48 hours of a landslide victory “means you mean business”, according to O’Brien’s tweet.

Later, Ambani met the chief minister at the Sahyadri Guest House. The Reliance chairman, accompanied by Reliance Gio head Tarun Jhunjhunwala, is believed to have brought to Mamata’s attention the roadblocks to rolling out 4G services in Bengal.

At the meeting, the industrialists avoided asking tough questions either because they did not wish to offend the chief minister or they were not interested enough in Bengal.

To questions about land, Mamata said 10,000 acres were available with the government. But the fact is that most of this land is in small parcels. 

Speaking to The Telegraph after the meeting, Goenka summed it up. “It went off really well. She certainly won the hearts of the people, but she has to also win the purse of the people.


Why Mukesh Ambani met Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee

Ambani is known to have discussed key matters in a one-on-one interaction with Banerjee after the meet

West Bengal Chief Minister ’s meet with the who’s who of India Inc in Mumbai turned out to be a runaway hit, courtesy Reliance Industries’ .

According to a tweet by Trinamool Congress’ Derek O’ Brien, Ambani was believed to have said that the Chief Minister meant business, given that she was in Mumbai barely 48 hours after a big electoral victory. But it’s not just Banerjee who meant business.


After the India Inc meeting Ambani met the Chief Minister one-on-one at the guest house where she had put up. State government sources said, none of the other state ministers were present during the meeting.


“HPL and 4G were the key matters discussed. He (Ambani) was very keen on 4G but HPL too was important on his agenda,” industry minister, Partha Chatterjee said, but added that no one was allowed to inturrept the one-on one between Banerjee and Ambani.


On the 4G front, the company plans to lay optical fibre cables across 5,500 km. It would use 3,500 telecom towers to support its 4G services in the state. Work has already started on laying cables across 300 km, the company management had said during a recent conference in the state. The investment in the project was around Rs 3,000 crore.


However, Haldia Petrochemicals Ltd (HPL) could just higher on Ambani’s priority. HPL, eastern India's biggest petrochem company, has been on the radar of RIL for quite some time. RIL has submitted an expression of interest for the state government’s 40 per cent stake. The five other bidders are Anil Agarwal’s Cairn India, Essar, IOC, ONGC and GAIL.


The plant visit, as part of the due diligence process, started on Thursday wherein the bidders would visit the plant, which according to HPL's former MD Partha Bhattacharyya could boast of international quality products. 


While RIL has formally joined the race for HPL now, its interest is an open secret. In 2006, Ambani had come down to meet Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who was the Chief Minister then. 

“Ambani said, I will come if you want me,” a senior Left leader said.


The state government was keen on selling its stake to Ambani, but an agreement with TCG’s Purnendu Chatterjee for the first rights of refusal, held it back. Ambani was asked to settle the matter with Purnendu Chatterjee directly, but it didn’t result in anything material.

This time too, the stake sale could get entangled in a legal battle. TCG has already filed an appeal in Supreme Court against a Calcutta High Court order. TCG wanted to move the international court of arbitration, against which the state government had moved the High Court.