Vedanta group chairman Anil Agarwal says his companies are looking to invest around $20 billion in India, including in the privatisation of BPCL, Shipping Corporation and Hindustan Copper. In an interview to TOI on the sidelines of the Dubai Expo, he suggests there is pressure from foreign entities to block manufacturing in India, including through concerns over environment and other issues. Excerpts:
What are the companies & sectors that interest you on the disinvestment list?
In a democratic country, the government does not run business. Our existing assets can be swept three times and so privatisation is a good move. At today’s market price, the government can get $1 trillion. I think, 20% should be privatisation and the rest should be corporatisation, where public shareholders come in and no one should own more than 10%. A professional board can do phenomenal work. We will evaluate everything, and we are evaluating BPCL, Shipping Corporation and Hindustan Copper, if it comes. If BPCL comes to us, people will be most happy since we are not going to retrench anyone. At the same time, they will have a backward integration in terms of fuel supply from Cairn. The government should sell things on an as-is-where-is basis so that things can be faster. Probably, this month they will tell us when the financial bids have to be submitted and it should happen in the next two-three months.
How will you finance it?
We have floated a fund for $10 billion and we have received tremendous response from several investors, including some sovereign wealth funds. Funds will never be an issue.
You had proposed to delist Vedanta, is it still on the table and how will it help given the concerns?
We had a 51% shareholding, which is now 66%. I am very happy that the shareholders are with me and we have no plan to delist the company.
What is the plan to tackle debt in future?
We have the lowest debt in the corporate sector. We have profits of $7-8 billion this year and debt of around $12 billion, including in the parent company. We have invested almost $50 billion to create assets, which have huge value. We are looking to invest $20 billion to expand our capacity . We have sweet crude and the government is framing a policy for freedom of marketing through self-certification.
Your companies have faced a lot of criticism from environmentalists and your Tamil Nadu plant is shut. Why are you always at the centre of such controversies and do they impact your investment?
Vedanta is in natural resources and the world does not want India to produce. We have the highest certification from several agencies. When Tuticorin was shut down, we went to the Supreme Court and NGT looked at it and have come up with a clean report. We are a democratic country, people can enter anywhere and ask for stopping production. We have the highest level of ESG (environmental, social and governance) compliance. When the US was growing, people used to say Rockfeller is taking away oil from sand. We can’t depend on exports, which is resulting in money flowing out from India. It is important to speed up forest clearance as time is of essence and we should move to self-certification. If anyone violates the norms, he should face the highest penalty.
Are you suggesting a ‘foreign hand’ at play?
Always. The world does not want India to produce but be a market. We don’t have to be an import-dependent country. We are very conscious of our responsibility and we have to move forward.
There are issues around Videocon bankruptcy, where you are the highest bidder, amid allegations about the whole process. Your bid is just above the reserve price. Your views?
Anybody can say anything. The process took two years and it was evaluated by the committee of creditors. We have given equity and have offered Rs 3,000 crore. The SC has said that we have to move forward once it has been approved by the CoC. We offered the highest price. We are very conscious that electronic manufacturing has to come to India. We have full trust in our banks and the judiciary.