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Vodafone open to Indian partners

Vodafone CEO in India to pursue Hutch acquisition, reports M Rajendran.

india Updated: Jan 12, 2007 17:20 IST

The Indian telecom industry was charged up on Wednesday with the visit of Arun Sarin the chief of Vodafone to India, even as the company prepares to pick up 67 per cent stake in Hutch Essar, held by Hutchison Telecommunications International Ltd (HTIL).

Sarin, who arrived in New Delhi on early Wednesday to pursue acquisition of Hutch Essar, held parleys with Union Finance Minister P Chidambarm, Minister for Commerce and Industry Kamal Nath and Communications Minister Dayanidhi Maran, ostensibly to check the mood of Indian government on its bid to enhance its presence in India.

Midst of the meeting Sarin is understood to have told all the three leaders that Vodafone would be open to the possibility to join hands with Essar to pick up stake in Hutch Essar.

During his meeting with Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, the chief of European telecom major is understood to have discussed Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy in telecom sector, besides regulatory issues.

Sources who were present at the meeting between the two said, that the minister told Sarin that the deal should be done in a transparent manner in accordance with best commercial practices and in the best interest of all stakeholders. Speaking to the reporters after the meeting, Sarin said the talks were "fruitful" and that "formal bidding was still a few weeks away." When quizzed about the bid being made by the end of January, he said, "Later than that." And said that FDI regulations were clear.

Sarin later in the evening met Maran and informed him on the benefits that Vodafone offers to its customers worldwide. He is also understood to have discussed the possible sale of 10 per cent stake Vodafone currently holds in Bharti, since the licence condition stipulate that no single promoter can hold more than 10 per cent stake in the same circle.

About 30 minutes prior to Sarin’s meeting with Maran, Sunil Bharti Mittal chairman and managing director of Bharti Enterprises met the Communications Minister. When asked about the discussions with Maran, Mittal told Hindustan Times, "I cannot comment on the discussions."

Earlier in the day Essar vice-chairman Ravi Ruia, met Finance Minister P Chidambaram separately. Essar is also bid for 67 per cent stake of HTIL in Hutch Essar Ltd (HEL), Communications Minister Dayanidhi Maran told agencies, "We want good (foreign telecom) players to come to India."

E-mail M Rajendran: rajendran.manoharan@hindustantimes.com