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Deadline set to wrap up HPL debt recast

Calcutta, July 15: The finance ministry has directed the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to settle the debt restructuring of Haldia Petrochemicals (HPL) within 60 days.

Purnendu Chatterjee, who holds 43 per cent in the company through The Chatterjee Group, has told the ministry that he is keen to retain management control, and that he is ready to pick up the equity to enjoy the privilege.

“Debt restructuring will now be based on the stand that Chatterjee has taken before the ministry,” an RBI official said.

Haldia Petrochemicals was referred to the corporate debt-restructuring cell within the Reserve Bank last Friday, a week before Chatterjee travels to Calcutta for formal discussions with the Bengal government on management control and debt restructuring.

The scramble for a loan breather comes at a time when the corridors of HPL are abuzz with the rumour that Tarun Das wants to step down as chairman and that he has asked the state government to look for a replacement.

Two names — Bengal chief secretary S. . Roy, who will retire soon, and Ficci secretary-general Amit Mitra — have surfaced. Das was not available for comment, and HPL’s spokesperson denied a change of guard.

When contacted in New Delhi, Mitra said he was completely in the dark.

The Chatterjee Group is happy that the finance ministry has referred HPL to the Reserve Bank’s debt-restructuring cell. “IDBI and SBI had delayed our case for quite a long time. We are happy that the matter will be sorted out within two months,” TCG sources said.

They did not disclose how much money Chatterjee would bring in to buy the equity that will give him control. In the past, the TCG boss has promised Rs 300 crore of HPL, saddled with a debt burden of Rs 4,200 crore.

TCG sources said Indian Oil Corporation was not in the reckoning as a possible ally any more. “Talks are now being held with Gail, which will join as the fourth strategic partner,” the sources said. The pipeline major is keen to pick up 10 per cent of HPL’s equity.

The debt recast for the Rs 5,170-crore company is hanging fire for three years. Since late 2001, it has stopped paying interest, which is around Rs 500 crore every year.

UTI loan

HPL is in talks on new terms for a Rs 50-crore loan it had taken from Unit Trust of India, says PTI. The funds had been disbursed for construction and purchase of machinery, by subscribing to 16 per cent optionally convertible debentures. Problems arose when the company found it difficult to service the debt.

Asked whether the loan was recalled, an HPL official said: “Discussions are on, so you cannot say it has been recalled.”

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