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Haldia Petro tussle gets murkier

Calcutta, Dec. 23: The Chatterjee Group has moved an “unlisted motion” in Calcutta High Court, seeking urgent intervention to nix the Bengal government’s plan to transfer any share of Haldia Petrochemicals Ltd to Indian Oil Corporation.

The matter will come up for hearing tomorrow, the day when the HPL board meets, possibly to ratify a plan to offload the government’s 52 crore shares to the oil PSU. The court will go on a Christmas vacation from Wednesday.

Faced with a spirited legal onslaught from TCG, the warring private promoter of HPL, the state has not been able to close the deal with IOC, which is the lone valid bidder for the Bengal government’s stake in Haldia.

Today, chief minister Mamata Banerjee took stock of the situation, holding a meeting with the group of ministers on Haldia.

Apart from industries minister Partha Chatterjee, who is also the chairman of HPL, finance minister Amit Mitra, panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee and power minister Manish Gupta were present at the meeting at Nabanna this afternoon.

Sources said the state government might request IOC to pick up the relatively undisputed 52 crore shares from the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation.

The WBIDC had proposed to sell 67.5 crore shares, including a contentious block of 15.5 crore shares, which TCG claims as its own.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court had allowed the private promoter to approach the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris for arbitration.

However, IOC is not too keen to buy the 52 crore shares at the moment as this will not ensure management control in HPL. The situation may change if Mamata takes an initiative to reach out to the top brass of IOC and the mandarins of the oil ministry.

Industry observers said TCG’s fresh legal salvo — there are as many as eight cases on HPL — is aimed at preventing the state to offer even the relatively non-disputed part of the WBIDC’s holding in Haldia Petrochem.

Incidentally, there has been no formal communication from the state government to IOC for more than a month. According to the divestment schedule, IOC had to be told by November 8 if it would get the WBIDC shares.

The PSU has recently written a letter seeking a status report on the matter, particularly the fate of the Rs 20-crore bank guarantee it had submitted while making a price bid in October. There is a possibility that IOC will get a reply after tomorrow’s board meeting.

Shaky fundamentals

Industry insiders said HPL’s loss could now top Rs 3 crore a day following the recent spike in raw material naphtha and the declining utilisation of capacity. The HPL plant is now operating at 40 per cent of the rated capacity as it has no money to buy naphtha.

LEGAL SALVO

Latest TCG move

Private promoter moves “unlisted motion” in Calcutta High Court

Reason

Prevent Bengal govt from selling HPL shares to IOC

Timing

Hearing coincides with HPL board meet today where state might offer its 52cr shares to oil PSU

 
 
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