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ATCL eyes revival after selloff snags

Guwahati, June 6: After a futile two-year search for potential buyers, the Assam Tea Corporation Ltd (ATCL) has shelved its selloff plan and come up with a three-pronged strategy to revive the flagging fortunes of its 14 gardens.

The strategy was finalised at a recent meeting of the management and is to be forwarded to the state government soon.

Industry minister Bhubaneshwar Kalita, also the ex-officio chairperson of the board of directors, said the corporation’s primary aim was to clear its financial liabilities, amounting to Rs 148 crore. “Once the liabilities are cleared, the corporation will approach financial institutions for working capital.”

To sustain itself during the revival process, the corporation intends to seek Rs 15 crore as a one-time grant from the government. The amount will be utilised in planting new tea bushes and nurturing these.

Kalita claimed four of the 14 tea gardens of the corporation had turned the corner already with new bushes being planted and pruned properly. He said the government would be requested to shoulder bank liabilities to the tune of about Rs 50 crore.

The corporation is planning to issue public bonds to mop up revenue to clear its employees’ provident fund dues, amounting to approximately Rs 35 crore. Funds to pay outstanding salaries and implement the voluntary retirement scheme is expected to come from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which has been approached for a restructuring loan of Rs 50 crore.

“The government has already held fruitful preliminary discussions with the ADB,” Kalita said.

The corporation is assured of another Rs 5 crore from the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation, which has purchased its corporate office in Guwahati.

The government decided to divest its stake in the corporation in 2001, the year the Congress took the reins of Dispur. It formed a five-member committee under the chairmanship of the chief secretary to oversee the exercise of selling all 14 gardens, which have a combined labour strength of over 20,000.

The selloff offer, however, did not get a good response. Nine companies bid for the gardens, but none of the proposals were found worthwhile. Kalita claimed only one of them — the Calcutta-based LMG International — was a “serious buyer”, but a deal could not be clinched because the company set several conditions.

The government had even approached a Singapore-based multinational with a proposal to take over the gardens and develop them into orchid farms. Though it did not work out, the company remains interested in setting up a Rs 600-crore fruit-processing plant in Assam.

A delegation from the company is scheduled to meet the industry minister tomorrow.

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