March 31: The Bengal government today pushed the dispute with Purnendu Chatterjee over Haldia Petrochemicals towards resolution by making a take-it-or-leave-it offer.
In a proposal placed before the Company Law Board (CLB) that is adjudicating the dispute, the government offered to sell its entire holding in the company to Chatterjee at a price that will be higher than the Rs 28.80 per share it had sought earlier and which its partner refused to pay.
There is a second part to the offer. According to it, the government is prepared to buy Chatterjee out at the price at which it is prepared to sell itself.
The CLB has asked Chatterjee to convey his response by April 12. The West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation, which holds the shares on behalf of the government, said in the offer that it would submit the price ' “not being lower than Rs 28.80 per equity share” ' at which it is ready to sell its holding in a sealed envelope to the CLB.
The government “is equally willing at that same price to buy all the shares held by the Chatterjee Group”, the proposal said.
Chatterjee said: “I have not seen the offer as yet so I have no comments to offer at this stage.
“My lawyers told me that there is an offer and they will be sending me the papers. I will not be going to my office today so I will see the papers when I reach.”
Sources, however, said Chatterjee does not see himself as a seller in Haldia.
Gopal Krishna, who heads the corporation, said: “There is a compatibility issue. We have been fighting for a year. This cannot go on. One (partner) has to go. This is a unique and fair offer.”
If Chatterjee does accept the proposal, he will have seven days to decide from the time the government makes its price offer. If he does not make up his mind by then, the government will buy him out.
On the contrary, if he decides to buy the government’s stake, he has to pay up within two weeks. In the case of failure to meet the deadline, the government will buy him out.
In a situation where he does not even consider the proposal, the CLB will give a judgment.
The Chatterjee camp is sceptical of the government’s ability to stump up the cash if he decides to sell out. But Gopal Krishna said: “We are confident of meeting the financial obligations. We have worked that out before making the offer.”
He added that there were several ways the government could raise the money. One of the options is for the corporation to issue bonds.
At least two companies are prepared to buy Haldia Petrochemicals if Chatterjee pulls out ' one a public sector giant and the other a private behemoth.
At the instance of the Bengal government, the Haldia Petrochem board had offered a 7.5 per cent stake to Indian Oil Corporation, a move that prompted Chatterjee to approach the CLB.
The dispute is so bitter that the two sides do not even agree on each other’s shareholding.
Government sources, however, said if they were to buy Chatterjee out, the approximate price would be Rs 2,200 crore.