Six major companies — Oil & Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), Gas Authority of India Ltd (GAIL), Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), Essar Oil and Cairn India — have evinced interest in buying off the stake of the Bengal government in embattled Haldia Petrochemicals (HPL), the joint venture between the state government and The Chatterjee Group (TCG).
The state government has floated an expression of interest (EoI) for the sale of its little-over-40% stake in HPL, the last day for which was Monday. It was on the final day that these companies emerged as interested parties.
HPL chairman and state industries minister Partha Chatterjee confirmed the development.
Interestingly, the expression of interest may trigger a new chapter in the controversial company. Purnendu Chatterjee-promoted TCG has already cautioned prospective investors.
In fact, last month, TCG published an advertisement cautioning probable bidders interested in purchasing the state government’s stake in HPL.
“This is to give notice that any person submitting an expression of interest for the purchase of/purchasing the aforesaid 675 million shares, is doing so subject to all existing rights of CPMC (Chatterjee Mauritius Company)/CPCL (Chatterjee Petrochem India) under various agreements with GoWB/ WBIDC and entirely at their own risk and peril,” the advertisement said. However, the floating of separate EoIs by IOC and ONGC came as somewhat of a surprise. They were slated to float an EoI as a joint consortium.
IOC already holds 8.9% stake in HPL. Officials of both IOC and ONGC visited the HPL plant at Haldia a couple of months ago to have a first-hand experience of the plant’s operations.
Interestingly, since the days of former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, it was speculated that RIL was interested in picking up a stake in HPL. However, top RIL officials avoided comments.
Another interesting factor was the absence of Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals, which has often expressed interest in picking up a stake in HPL. It appears that MRPL, a wholly owned subsidiary of ONGC, backed out since its parent company is floating an EoI.
TCG is caught in a legal battle with the Mamata government over its control of the company. It wants to drag the state government to the Paris-based international court of arbitration over the issue, a proposal that has been turned down by the high court.