The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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State-run metal units find a friendly suitor

New Delhi, Jan. 11: Calcutta’s prodigal son, Lord Raj Kumar Bagri, who made it big in London, wants to return home. Not literally, but figuratively.

Metal trading tycoon Bagri, who became the first non-Briton to chair the powerful London Metal Exchange, wants to play with his beloved metals nearer to his roots.

Bagri is keen to pick up stakes in state-run metal mining and refining companies, which are being put on the block. Despite not being able to pick up a stake in Hindustan Copper Ltd in the first round of bidding, the rags-to-riches business giant is still keen on PSU picks. “We are actively looking at PSU privatisation. We want to pick up stakes in these companies as it would give us a ready base here.”

While he refused to name the firms he is keen on, disinvestment ministry officials said Bagri is still interested in Hindustan Copper Ltd if the government gives significant write-offs and subsidies. He is also interested in Orissa-based aluminium giant, Nalco.

Lord Bagri, who landed up in London about 46 years back as an apprentice trader working for Binani Metals, has also evinced interests in greenfield investments. “I am looking at investments in metal prospecting, refining and processing — in that order of priority — in Bengal and Rajasthan,” he told The Telegraph.

But PSUs will remain his first obsession. “PSUs give you a base. It is very difficult to start from scratch here due to structural problems. Better to buy in,” he explained.

The £ 2-billion Metdist group, which he heads, has already invested in a planned copper smelter and refining project in Gujarat. But he is not exactly happy with the experience and shied away from talking of the venture, which is still far away from completion. According to official sources, Metdist Industries Ltd has received investments of just Rs 21.70 crore out of an authorised capital of Rs 680 crore.

Bagri, who fought his way into LME’s board-room, however, does not want to set up similar futures exchanges in India. “Metals is a very global business. There are regional exchanges ... but they are not the order of things. Instead, Indians should try to muscle into the LME and the New York Mercantile Exchange. We should be trying to influence global exchanges by participating there.”

The metal tycoon, who has married his daughter off to Calcutta-based industrialist Chandrakant Birla, would like Indian firms to turn into multinationals. “There is room and there is scope — I don’t see why they should not try to do so ... they should think big.”

For his own part, Bagri no longer sees himself as either an Indian or a British businessman but rather a “global player”.

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