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Bengal shines, HPL fades on Tata radar

Calcutta, Aug. 9: Tata group chairman Ratan Tata has stepped down from the board of Haldia Petrochemicals Limited (HPL), which last week ushered in Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) with a 7.5 per cent stake.

The Tata boss decided to go despite HPL chairman Tarun Das’ efforts to get him to stay on. He, however, gave the entry of the Fortune 500 oil firm a ringing endorsement.

Tata’s departure is being seen as a blow to the Bengal government, which wanted him to continue. “I had left the HPL board in the past, only to join again. But this time, I have stepped down for good. The Tatas have a 3 per cent stake but there is no need for a director. We do not have a slot on the board now,” Tata said on the sidelines of the annual general meeting of Tata Tea.

The Tatas held a 14 per cent stake in HPL until three years back, when they decided to pull out of petrochemicals since it was a non-core business for the group.

Das also requested the Tatas to continue with “token” representation, and he succeeded. The group will keep the 3 per cent stake it holds in the petrochem firm.

On IOC’s entry, Tata said: “This is the best thing that has happened to HPL. IOC is a strong oil PSU with ambitious plans in petrochemicals. Its investment will help HPL grow further.”

IOC has invested Rs 150 crore in return for a 7.5 per cent stake in HPL. Purnendu Chatterjee of The Chatterjee Group ' one of the principal promoters of HPL ' unsuccessfully moved the Company Law Board to block the state government’s decision to issue shares to IOC.

Asked whether Purnendu had shown interest in Tatas’ HPL shares, Tata said Purnendu never made such a proposal.

Bengal on course

The Tatas have reaffirmed their commitment to Bengal, which could see the group setting up ventures in automobiles, power and healthcare. A 150-bed cancer hospital in the city will kick off these initiatives. “We have been allotted land only yesterday. We will be investing Rs 92 crore in the first phase of the project,” Tata said.

The 10-acre plot at Rajarhat changed hands for Rs 10 crore but the Tatas want another 15 acres for the hospital, the first phase of which will be over in 18 months. “We stand by our commitment to give Calcutta the best cancer institute.”

After Apollo Gleneagles, the Tata group will be the second healthcare group to invest in Bengal on a similar scale.

Around 60,000 new cancer cases are reported in Bengal every year, with Calcutta accounting for 5,000.

“The cancer hospital is a token of our belonging to the city. We are planning to make more investments in the state. Calcutta is in our hearts. We have neglected Bengal. But things are looking up and the state will attract a lot of interest from industry,” Tata said.

The Tatas may also consider an automobile unit, honouring a request from chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. “The proposal is under consideration of the Tata Motors board, which will have to clear the venture,” he added.

Tata Power, too, is interested in starting a plant here. “We had talks with the chief minister on power projects. The government will have to come up with its plans,” Tata added. The group is already setting up a Haldia metcoke project at an investment of nearly Rs 700 crore.

Tata said there are other investment plans for the state as well. “We have not yet decided on the sectors where we would invest. We are preparing the proposals,” he added.

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