Essel Group bets big on education

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Big plans: Mr Subhash Chandra, Chairman, Essel Group, and Mr Sumeet Mehta, CEO, Zee Learn.
Big plans: Mr Subhash Chandra, Chairman, Essel Group, and Mr Sumeet Mehta, CEO, Zee Learn.

Our Bureau

Chennai, April 8

Media conglomerate Essel Group has increased its outlay for its education business to Rs 500-700 crore in the next five to seven years as against the earlier announcement of Rs 350 crore in 2008, according to group Chairman Mr Subhash Chandra.

“We have already spent Rs 100 crore in the education business,” he told newspersons.

The fresh investment will include a new university in Uttaranchal called Himagiri Nabh Vishwavidyalaya with an investment of over Rs 100 crore and the rest in K-12 schools and Kidzee pre-schools.

The university in 60 acres of land is expected to be commissioned by the end of 2011, he said. The group set up more than 50 schools in one year plans to reach 300 schools by 2015.

Mr Chandra said the revenues from the education sector was part of the group's corporate social responsibility even though the returns would be lower than the normal business, he said.

Mr Sumeet Mehta, Chief Executive Officer, Zee Learn, the education division of ETC Networks Ltd (this is to be renamed as Zee Learning in the next 30 days), said that since the launch on December 17, 2008, Zee School has grown to more than 50 in number and is the fastest growing school chain in the country.

Also, Zee Schools is now the second largest chain of schools (after the DPS Group of Schools) in the private-unaided category, he said.

With around 250 million children already in the school-going age, the lack of quality schools is the prime concern. Zee Learn runs India's number one chain of pre-schools. Its Kidzee has 700 pre-schools in over 311 cities, he said.

On Essel Infraprojects Ltd (EIL), a group company, Mr Chandra said it has orders worth Rs 4,000 crore for laying 1,700 km of road, which is expected to be completed in the next 12 months.

Essel Group is also planning to float a new company to set up a ‘special zone' for media, entertainment and tourism in South Mumbai. The new zone will be spread over 800 acres of land. It will have amusement, entertainment, production houses and hotels, he said, declining to comment on investment. As an extension of the group's popular theme park ‘Essel World', the zone could even have post-production facilities for foreign films, he said.

“We are today a Rs 10,000-crore group and eyeing a 10-15 per cent growth in the next two years,” Mr Chandra said. The group owns Zee Entertainment, Zee News, a daily newspaper DNA. It also owns Dish TV (a direct-to-home service provider).

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(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated April 9, 2010)
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