Chatterjee gets his way at HPL

Chatterjee gets his way at HPL

Kolkata: Venture capitalist Purnendu Chatterjee, who co-founded Haldia Petrochemicals Ltd (HPL) with the West Bengal government, has got the state to appoint his preferred candidate as the firm’s managing director.

Partha S. Bhattacharyya, chairman of state-owned miner Coal India Ltd till February, will take over as loss-making HPL’s managing director from 1 April. He will replace Swapan Bhoumik, whose term was extended by a year till the end of this month.

Though West Bengal was reluctant to give the top job to Bhattacharyya, and was keen on finding “someone with domain expertise", according to the state’s commerce and industries minister Nirupam Sen, it eventually agreed to Chatterjee’s proposal.

Bhattacharyya’s appointment is expected to be formally ratified by the petrochemical company’s board in a week or so.

“I am looking forward to it," said Bhattacharyya. “It should be another enriching and learning experience."

It was Chatterjee, HPL’s vice-chairman, who “handpicked Bhattacharyya for this job", according to an official of the Chatterjee Group—one of the key shareholders in HPL.

Bhattacharyya, who in 1996 was instrumental in restructuring the Union government’s loan to the miner, has his task cut out. “He has to prove his ability to turn around companies one more time," said the official cited earlier, who did not want to be identified.

HPL’s debt is approaching Rs2,500 crore. It expanded production capacity from 522,000 tonnes a year to 700,000 tonnes a year at a cost of Rs1,260 crore compared with a budgeted Rs650 crore.

The firm posted a loss of Rs183 crore in the year ended March 2010. Capacity utilization in that year was at 47% compared with a projection of 78%.

For the current year, the management has projected a loss of at least Rs59 crore, but this is expected to expand.

Though a search committee had been formed, Chatterjee was overseeing the process of finding a new managing director, Dipankar Mukhopadhyay, a director of HPL and principal secretary in the state’s commerce and industries department, said in an interview in December.