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Former chairman of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL), Subhash Chandra, in an open letter on Tuesday, said just 8.8% of his overall debt remains to be settled, as 91% of the dues have already been paid. He, however, clarified that a dispute with one lender is pending before the court, and the resolution may take some time.

“I am happy to report that we have come out of the financial stress situation by settling 91.2% of our total debt to 43 lenders in 110 accounts. 88.3% amount has been paid, while the remaining 2.9% is in the process of being paid. We are making all the required efforts to settle the remaining 8.8% of our total debt," Chandra said.

Referring to his first letter in January 2019, where he admitted to defaulting on payments, Chandra said he was trying to explain the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the defaults.

“I had admitted the wrong decisions taken by me in the past which caused the occurrence of the default, due to the asset liability mismatch. Goes without saying, that it was an after-effect of the liquidity crisis triggered by the IL&FS (Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services) case," he said.

Chandra, however, added it was his “earnest desire to settle the remaining outstanding accounts (to the best of group’s ability and current circumstances) before the end of this fiscal year". There could be one case (one lender), where there are disputes and “both sides seem fixated on their belief on the number of debt(s) claimed and payable. The difference of numbers in this case is huge. The issues are pending in the court(s) for determination", he said.

He also expressed his inability to pay any additional amount as he did not possess any assets or wealth. “As promised in my open letter dated 25 January 2019, beyond the payment effected/committed/agreed to pay, I am in no position to pay additional sums of monies, from my own/personal resources, as I do not own/possess any asset/wealth besides what I have disposed off to discharge our obligations."

Chandra said the group has already exited/sold its infrastructure, financial services, print media and some other businesses, and group companies Zee Learn Ltd, SITI Networks Ltd, and Zee Media Corp. Ltd were going through a difficult phase owing to the lack of capital. “My brother Jawahar Goel’s company, Dish TV India Ltd, is also suffering and losing its base because of me, without any of his fault. Vide this letter, I would also like to publicly apologize to him and his family," he added.

The asset divestment process took a setback during the pandemic which slowed down the overall debt resolution process, he said, adding that he would make the effort to resolve the “outstanding issues (including the difficult one) as stated above".

He also took the opportunity to declare that he was exploring business opportunities in the “video in digital space, and AI/ML (artificial intelligence and machine learning) in the video space, without getting into any conflicts with ZEEL, in any manner".

To be sure, Chandra had entered the infrastructure business and taken massive loans with his family shares in Zee Entertainment used as collateral. As of September 2019, Chandra and his son Punit Goenka had to repay around 11,000 crore.

“In usual cases, infra companies have raised their hands and have left their lenders with non-performing assets, but in our case, my obsession of not walking away from the situation has made me bleed 4,000-5,000 crore. Despite the loss-making projects, we continued to pay the interest and the principal, by borrowing funds against our shareholdings in listed companies," Chandra had said in his letter on 25 January 2019. The crisis had been aggravated by the collapse of IL&FS, a highly rated lender that “stopped the roll overs, diminishing our ability to service our borrowings", he had said.

In June, Mint reported that media and entertainment firm Viacom18 Media Pvt. Ltd and Chandra’s ZEEL were in initial talks for a potential merger that could create a large media firm with interests spanning broadcast, OTT, live entertainment and movie production. The merger is proposed to be done through a share swap deal and is unlikely to involve any cash transaction.

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