Tata-DoCoMo dispute: Why India is making it tough for global deals

The Tata-DoCoMo dispute will test Narendra Modi’s initiative to boost foreign investment in India


DoCoMo says it is open to any discussion with Tata and the Indian government to enable payment of what it’s owed. Tata Sons says it will honour contractual obligations within Indian law. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
DoCoMo says it is open to any discussion with Tata and the Indian government to enable payment of what it’s owed. Tata Sons says it will honour contractual obligations within Indian law. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

Mumbai: A case being heard in London and New Delhi is testing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign to boost foreign investment in India. The dispute pits Japan’s biggest mobile phone company, NTT DoCoMo Inc., against Tata Sons Ltd., the holding company of India’s largest industrial conglomerate. The result may signal if Modi’s initiative will affect shareholder rights in India. Foreign direct investment into India climbed 23% to $55 billion in the 12 months through March 2016, buoyed partly by Modi’s steps to ease curbs on inflows.

1. What’s the fight about?

How much money DoCoMo should receive for walking away from the 26.5% stake in Tata Teleservices, one of its worst overseas investments. DoCoMo spent ¥266.7 billion ($2.6 billion) for the stake in 2009, seeking to expand into one of the world’s fastest-growing major wireless markets.

2. What is DoCoMo seeking?

DoCoMo wants back half of what it spent to acquire its stake. The shareholders’ agreement gives it the right to relinquish its stake at “fair value,” or at half the acquisition price, whichever is higher. DoCoMo decided to sell its stake in 2014.

3. So Tata Sons refused to pay?

Oddly, no. Tata Sons asked the Reserve Bank of India for permission to pay half the acquisition price, just as DoCoMo had requested. But the central bank responded citing a new rule that foreign investors could exit an investment only at prevailing “fair value,’’ as confirmed by a certified accountant or registered merchant banker, and not at a predetermined, “assured” exit price.

4. What is “fair value” in this case?

Neither DoCoMo nor Tata has said.

5. How are the companies trying to save their deal?

DoCoMo received a favourable ruling from the London Court of International Arbitration in June 2016, when it ordered Tata Sons to pay $1.17 billion for breach of contract. DoCoMo submitted that order to the Delhi high court. It also approached London’s Commercial Court to seek enforcement of the award in the UK, targeting assets it said are controlled by the group, like carmaker Jaguar Landrover and steelmaker Tata Steel. Meantime, Tata Sons deposited $1.17 billion with the Delhi high court, saying it’s willing to pay up if India’s central banks permits it to.

6. What does India’s central bank say?

In a letter dated 25 July and obtained by Bloomberg, the bank again refused to give permission for the Docomo payment.

7. What’s next?

Legal maneuvering continues in the Delhi high court and in London Commercial Court. DoCoMo says it is open to any discussion with Tata and the Indian government to enable payment of what it’s owed. Tata Sons says it will honour contractual obligations within Indian law.

The Reference Shelf

A story on India allowing foreign investors to fully own its local airlines. Bloomberg View columnist Mihir Sharma says India’s door to foreign investors is only half-open. Bloomberg

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