‘Without clear-cut guidelines, you can forget acquisitions'

Vishwanath Kulkarni New Delhi | Updated on March 07, 2011

Mr Partha S. Bhattacharyya, outgoing Coal India Chairman and Managing Director

No blame game will work. We need to demonstrate. We believe in restoration of the environment. We believe in reclamation of mined-out areas.

As Chairman and Managing Director, Mr Partha S. Bhattacharyya's biggest achievement was putting Coal India on the world map by taking the company public in what became the country's largest initial public offering. After spending around 34 years in the company, Mr Bhattacharyya will step down on Monday as the Chairman of the world's largest coal producer.

Known for his candid views, Mr Bhattacharyya told Business Line that demand for coal will continue to rise and domestic supply will not be able to keep pace, resulting in increased imports, He also felt that lack of clear-cut guidelines were obstructing PSU acquisition strategy.

Excerpts from the interview:

When you look back, are there any areas where you think you could have done better?

Firstly, I wish we could have convinced the employees to take part in the IPO, an exercise that enabled us to discover our strength. Second, we were unable to take the authorities along on the issue of environment versus mining in order to avoid the drop in coal output. Ultimately a Group of Ministers had to be constituted to sort out the issues. I also wish that the current emphasis on washing of coal for improving its quality had started earlier. On the mining front, we should have speeded our underground mechanisation efforts.

Does it mean that you couldn't anticipate the demand for coal or identify the difficulties in time?

No. Demand was well anticipated. That's the reason we pushed up growth rates from 5.2 per cent to 6.4 (per cent) in 2008-09 and 6.8 per cent in 2010. We are looking at 7.5 per cent this year. But suddenly the environmental issues such as ‘CEPI' (Comprehensive Environment Pollution Index) and ‘No Go' came up, because of which we have suffered. We should be back on the rails once we speed up our initiatives on environment and mechanisation. No blame game will work. We need to demonstrate. We believe in restoration of the environment. We believe in reclamation of mined-out areas.

Where do you see Coal India five years down the line?

It is a fact that the country has to depend predominantly on coal for energy needs. Demand is going to go up at a much faster pace than production. I don't think it will be possible to get a holistic view on mining versus development. Demand continues to be at 10 per cent, while production is growing at around 7 per cent. With 9,000-10,000 MW of capacity addition in the power sector every year, the demand growth will be at 10 per cent for the next 10 years. The gap of 20 per cent has to be met with imports and I expect imports to touch 200 million tonnes in 10 years. Coal India has always been a great company and it has the culture of identifying bottlenecks, taking action and moving out of it. That has happened time and again, whenever the company has faced a crisis and I think it will happen again.

Any advice for your successor?

He knows what needs to be done. (The Public Enterprises Selection Board has recommended the names of Mr T.K. Lahiri, CMD of Bharat Coking Coal Ltd, and Mr D.C.Garg, CMD of Western Coalfields Ltd, for the CIL Chairman's post. However, the Government is yet to announce the successor.) The recent two-day conference in Sunderbans has laid down the road map very clearly. He has a perfect document to work on.

Your acquisition strategy has not clicked?

Acquisition strategy is waiting for guidelines from the Government. In (the) absence of clear-cut guidelines, not much can be expected… you are vulnerable to questions. The only way out are clear-cut guidelines like in the case of procurement. If those guidelines don't happen, you should forget about acquisitions.

Considering that Chinese companies have been aggressive in the international coal market, do you think Indian firms have lost a chance to pick up overseas assets?

Private Indian companies have done a better job. The Chinese take a decision on different parameters. They don't look at IRR (internal rate of returns), but they take strategic decisions. We are not there.

Published on February 27, 2011

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