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'Opportunity must match our stature'

She is the first woman to head one of India's biggest multinational energy company, Shell India. Yasmine Hilton spoke with Hindustan Times on a variety of issues, and said Shell is scouting for a big opportunity in India.

business Updated: Feb 12, 2013 20:57 IST
Anupama Airy

She is the first woman to head one of India's biggest multinational energy company, Shell India. Born in India and married to a physicist, Dr Yasmine Hilton, after spending 30 years in Shell in various roles, is proud to be back in her home country as chairman of Shell companies in India, which she says is her last job.

Hilton, who studied at the prestigious Welham's school in Dehra Dun before studying science abroad, says she always wanted to be a doctor. That dream ended quickly when she saw an aunt who was a doctor carry out a minor operation. She then completed her PhD in Population Genetics and joined Shell's research station.

India's largest oil producing onland block in Rajasthan once belonged to Shell, which was sold to Cairn at a throwaway price. Cairn subsequently made billions of dollars when it sold a controlling stake in the block to the Anil Agarwal-promoted Vedanta Group.

Yasmine Hilton spoke with Hindustan Times on a variety of issues, and said Shell is scouting for a big opportunity in India. Excerpts.

Burmah Shell was a big name in India… any plans to re-brand Shell India?
I agree that we used to be a very big brand --- Burmah Shell that everybody has known and still remembers. What I would really like to do looking forward is to see that Shell returns to a premier position across the energy sector in India and be the most competitive and innovative energy company in India. I think this is possible and I see a lot of opportunity for growth.

You once had the prolific Rajasthan oil block, which you literally gave away. Shell has been missing from India's oil and gas exploration and production sector since then. Any plans here?
We may not have been in India's upstream sector for the past 16 years, but we have never stopped looking for a good opportunity in the sector. The opportunities that exist in India have never been able to make it to the 30 top large projects that Shell would want to do. We are too big to do little things and continue to look for a material opportunity.

What I can say is that we will surely have a presence in India's E&P sector in the next five years, but it has to be the right opportunity with an equal and attractive policy framework.

Can you tell us what is the policy framework that an MNC like Shell looks for in India?
Can somebody explain how a tax demand of $1 billion (Rs. 5,500 crores) is raised on an equity infusion of $160 million (Rs. 880 crores) that was done by Shell for its downstream fuel retailing business in India in 2008?

This division was not making money. Just think about the absurdity about it and it is effectively a tax on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), which is contrary not only to law but also to the spirit of the recent global trip by the finance minister to attract FDI into India.

Shell works with the highest business principles and takes strong objection to comments that the company has evaded taxes. We are reviewing all legal options but I won't say how we will challenge this tax notice.

So what do you propose?
To attract global giants, India needs to send right signals that it has a stable fiscal, legal and tax regime. Let's have a robust investor-friendly framework. Do not create waves of fear amongst your investors by unreasonable tax demands or unreasonable statements as it only sends wrong signals.

Have you chalked specific investment plans for India?
Shell India plans to invest $1 billion and plans to build a new 5 million-tonnes per annum (MTPA) floating LNG terminal at Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh with Anil Ambani's Reliance Power.

This facility will be in addition to the 3.6 million tonnes LNG import facility at Hazira in Gujarat, which will go upto 5 MTPA by April. The plan is to double capacity to 10 million tonnes in 3-4 years while the Kakinada terminal can also be doubled in near future.

With 70-odd petrol pumps, what are your plans to expand in the fuel retailing sector?
We must have a level playing field - market pricing and no subsidies. Subsidies are non-competitive. As an MNC, I don't get any subsidies... A level playing field will sharpen performance and give consumers a choice. Competition is not a dirty word.