Mukesh Ambani looks east as ril revives Bengal plan

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Mukesh Ambani looks east as RIL revives Bengal plan

Reliance Industries Ltd wants the state to chalk out a concrete policy before investing.

Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Group has revived its interest in West Bengal, after a hiatus of nearly three years.

After the Mamata Banerjee-led government took charge, Ambani spoke at length with West Bengal commerce and industry minister Partha Chatterjee and discussed a range of proposals from food processing and gems & jewellery to refineries and Haldia Petrochemicals.

“Yes, we have spoken, but they are yet to submit a concrete proposal in writing,” Chatterjee said.

Reliance Industries (RIL) officials, however, pointed out that unless the state government chalked out a concrete policy, proactively, the company does not see investments in petrochemicals or refining coming through.

“There is enough in the project pipeline,” an official said on condition of anonymity. An liquefied natural gas terminal in the east coast could be considered, though, he said.

Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh, the landing point for the Krishna Godavari gas basin, already has some existing infrastructure, but for a fresh terminal both the demand situation and the pipeline infrastructure would be essential and the feasibility of which would be studied independently. Any final decision on an LNG terminal would be taken by the new joint venture company RIL-BP.

A Reliance spokesperson, however, declined to comment.

Reliance’s interest in Bengal is not new. Ever since Haldia Petrochemicals project was conceived during Jyoti Basu's tenure, Reliance had been keen to get involved. Mukesh Ambani had come down to meet former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and industry minister Nirupam Sen in 2006, soon after the Assembly elections.

“We wanted Reliance as an anchor investor in the petroleum, chemicals, and petrochemical investment region,” Nirupam Sen said. In the Haldia Petrochemicals, too, the state had agreed not to oppose if The Chatterjee Group founder Purnendu Chatterjee agreed to Ambani picking up stake in the company.

“The West Bengal government has an agreement with Purnendu Chatterjee for a right of first refusal on the shares of Haldia Petrochemicals,” Sen clarified.

Partha Chatterjee, however, said his government was against mergers and acquisitions. “How can he acquire stake in Haldia Petrochemicals? It’s with Purnendu Chatterjee. He should speak to Chatterjee,” he said. But sources said, at a time when after years of logjam, differences between the state government and Purnendu Chatterjee was in the process of getting resolved, it was unlikely that a new investor could enter the fray.

Though the state government may not be forthcoming as far as the Haldia Petrochemicals was concerned, it did intervene when some kirana shop owners protested against Reliance’s agri-retail plans.

“Though the company has not submitted any plan for the land it acquired, such hypermarket formats are common across the country,” said Trinamool Congress MP from east Midnapore, Shubhendu Adhikari, who stepped in to resolve the problem.

Reliance has small parcels of land for its agri-retail plan, conceived during Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s time. It had announced an investment of Rs 4,000 crore for its agri-retail plan in 2006, but had to put it on the back burner in the wake of hurdles posed by the Forward Bloc, a constituent of the Left Front. Finally, it started selling agro products from a local partner’s outlets.

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