Mukesh Ambani had an exclusive meeting with West Bengal Chief Minister after she met India Inc leaders in Mumbai.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s meeting with industry leaders in Mumbai turned out to be a runaway hit. According to a tweet by Derek O’ Brien of the Trinamool Congress, Reliance Industries chief Mukesh Ambani was believed to have said during her visit, Banerjee meant business, given she was in Mumbai barely 48 hours after a huge electoral victory in her State. However, Banerjee wasn’t the only one who had business on her mind. After her meeting with India Inc leaders, Ambani met her one-to-one at the guest house where she was staying in Mumbai.
“HPL (Haldia Petrochemicals) and fourth-generation (4G) telecom services were the key matters discussed. He (Ambani) was very keen on 4G but HPL, too was important on his agenda,” State Industries Minister Partha Chatterjee said. On the 4G front, Reliance Industries plans to lay optical fibre cables across 5,500 km. It would use 3,500 telecom towers to support its 4G services in West Bengal. Work was already underway on laying cables across 300 km, the company management had said at a recent conference in the State. Investment in the project is about Rs. 3,000 crore (Rs. 30 billion).
HPL could rank higher on Ambani’s priority list. Eastern India’s biggest petrochemical company, HPL has been on the radar of Reliance Industries for some time. The company has submitted an expression of interest for the State Government’s 40 per cent stake in the venture. The other bidders are Cairn India, Essar, Indian Oil Corporation, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation and GAIL.
While RIL recently joined the race for HPL in a formal manner, its interest in the petrochemical venture was an open secret. In 2006, Ambani had met then Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee regarding the HPL stake acquisition. Then, Ambani had said, “I will come, if you want me to,” according to a senior Left leader.
The State Government was keen on selling its HPL stake to Ambani, but an agreement with The Chatterjee Group (TCG) chief Purnendu Chatterjee regarding the first right of refusal held it back. Though Ambani was asked to settle the matter with Purnendu Chatterjee directly, this didn’t yield concrete results. This time, too, the stake sale could be entangled in a tussle. TCG is already involved in a legal battle with the West Bengal Government for the HPL stake.
Last year, Chatterjee had filed for arbitration with the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce’s International Court of Arbitration. The move was challenged by the West Bengal Government in the high court here, which ruled against TCG. Subsequently, TCG filed an appeal in the Supreme Court against the high court order.