WB govt tightens grip on Haldia Pterochemicals

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Kolkata: The Trinamool Congress-led Bengal government on Tuesday took over the management of Haldia Petrochemicals Ltd (HPL) by installing a managing director (MD) of its choice, outmanoeuvring private entrepreneur Purnendu Chatterjee of The Chatterjee Group (TCG). The HPL board wasted no time in grabbing an opportunity to induct a new MD after Prabir Bhattacharyya, the incumbent and former Coal India chairman, decided to quit at around 2:30 pm on Monday during the board meeting at West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) office in Camac Street.

The meeting was delayed due to a hearing in Calcutta High Court, which had stayed share transfer for 24 hours. The board, led by the state industries minister, Partha Chatterjee, accepted Bhattacharyya's resignation and he was replaced with former bureaucrat Sumantra Choudhury.

It is learnt that the TCG chairman, who also happens to be the HPL vice-chairman, tried to deter Bhattacharyya but failing to do so, he pulled out of the meeting midway saying he had to attend an international call at his office. Inside sources said Purnendu was clearly upset with the development and pulled out. Even some questions were raised on some business decisions during the meeting, which had heated up the ambiance. Purnendu also alleged that his opinions were not being given importance. He went out of the meeting even before the new MD was named. However, one of the sources said that Purnendu had objected to the move before moving out.

It is expected that the new appointment would be challenged in court, which would add to the baggage of controversies that the 'showpiece' unit already carry. No nominee of the TCG was present at the meeting on Tuesday. Both the West Bengal government and Purnendu claim majority stake in the HPL although the ownership of a decisive block of shares is yet to be settled.

Purnendu, who in the past had fought court battles with the Left government and now is engaged with a legal fight with the present government, had picked Bhattacharyya, one of the most successful public-sector chiefs, for the top post at the HPL just over a year ago. The state government wanted a change at the helm of HPL and clearly was not confident of Bhattacharyya's candidature.

Bhattacharyya was perceived by the state government as someone who sided with the private promoter. Bhattacharya, who apparently cited personal reasons for his decision, was also reluctant to continue at the HPL particularly when its principal promoters were waging legal battles. The HPL board relieved Bhattacharyya with immediate effect.

But why is the government upset with Purnendu? "Chatterjee (Purnendu) did not have any concrete proposal to revive the company. HPL needs cash but neither he would bring in money nor would he let us induct a public firm," a government source said. The latest problem has occurred during a time when the HPL is going through a rough phase and is need of Rs 10,000-crore loan to meet its daily needs. The unit is also burdened with a loss of Rs 1,100 crore. The Mamata Banerjee-government has decided to take over HPL, so far so good, but can it revive it as we all know the government itself is in a financial mess? That is the million-dollar question.

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