By Dipankar Basu, Sanhati.
The Tata Group of Companies is one of the largest business conglomerates in India today with about 100 large companies in its fold. With the might of the Indian State firmly behind it, monopoly capital in India has started a move to aggressively acquire foreign assets. In the last few years, the Tata Group has been leading this acquisition spree on behalf of Indian big capital, making forays not only in Asia and Africa but also in the heartland of world capitalism: USA and Europe. Let us briefly take a look at the record of the Tata Group with regard to foreign acquisitions.
In January 2007, the Tata Group pulled off India’s biggest ever takeover of a foreign company to buy Anglo-Dutch steel-maker Corus for $12 billion; this acquisition made the combined entity (Tata-Corus) the world’s fifth largest producer of steel. In March 2004, the Tata Group acquired South Korea’s Daewoo Commercial Vehicle Company for $102 million; this was followed by the acquisition of a 21 percent stake in Spanish bus maker Hispano Carrocera for $18 million with an option to pick up the remaining stake at a later date. Around the same time, Tata Technologies, another company in the Tata fold, which provides automotive engineering and design services, bought Britain’s Incat International for $53 million.
Tata Consultancy Services, which was earlier a division of Tata Sons and a rising star in the Tata Group, has been among the most aggressive shoppers for foreign companies. It has acquired six companies in the past few years, with the net value of the deals close to $100 million; these include FNS of Australia, which was acquired for $26 million and Chile’s outsourcing major Comicrom, which was bought for $23 million. When the Tata Group acquired the former state-run, international telecom carrier, VSNL, a few years ago, it was on it’s way to becoming a major telecom player in the global markets. To enhance it’s position, it acquired undersea cable company Tyco of the US for $130 million, Internet service provider Dishnet’s India division for $64.28 million and international telecom service provider Teleglobe of the US for $239 million.
Following its acquisition of Hindustan Lever Chemicals, Tata Chemicals was on the lookout for a steady supply of phosphoric acid for its newly acquired plant at Haldia, West Bengal. Accordingly, it took over two overseas companies for a total value of $215 million: Indo Maroc Phosphore of Morocco in March 2005 and Brunner Mond Group of Britain in December 2007. Morocco, by the way, produces over 50 percent of the world’s rock phosphate.
In 2000, Tata Tea bought British giant Tetley for a $407 million, and started looking for similar deals to strenghthen it’s global position in the tea and related drinks business. This search led to acquisition of 33 percent stake in the South African company Joekels Tea Packers for an undisclosed amount and 30 percent stake in the US-based favoured water manufacturer Glaceau for $677 million, the acquisition of the US-based Good Earth Corp for $32 million and acquisition of the Czech Republic’s firm Jemca for an unknown amount.
India Hotels, the hotel branch of the Tata Group, acquired several hotels abroad for $121 million in the past few years. It is reported to have set aside $100 million for future acquisitions in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the US. In December 2006, it had acquired W, a hotel at the Woolloomooloo Bay in Sydney; it was followed by the taking over of the management of The Pierre, a luxurious landmark hotel on New York’s Fifth Avenue. India Hotels, which runs the Taj Group of hotels, has 39 hotels in India and 18 worldwide. A recent acquisition of India Hotels was Campton Place Hotel in San Francisco
This is not a complete list; it is just a representative list of the Tata Group’s recent foreign acquisitions. It is only meant to provide some ballpark figures about the amount that the Tata Group has spent in the last few years in expanding it’s business abroad and in acquisition of costly strategic corporate assets. This decidedly incomplete information about the Tata Groups `acquisition spree’ is also meant to serve as an introduction to the agreement that was recently signed by the West Bengal Government and Tata Motors Ltd. (TML) for setting up `a manufacturing Plant for Automobile Products’ in Police Station Singur of District Hoogly in West Bengal. If we add up the figures for Tata Group’s overseas acquisitions, we arrive at a rough figure of $14,062 million, which converts to roughly Rs. 56,248 crore (using an exchange rate of Rs 40/$).
Of course what this implies is that a corporation which can invest more than Rs. 56,000 crores for acquisition of foreign companies requires the financial support of India’s taxpayers to set up a plant in India!
Because that is what the recently concluded agreement between the TML and the West Bengal government boils down to. Take point 7(a) of the agreement as an example. This refers to the loans that the WBIDC will give to the TML in the form of tax holidays for 30 years (i.e., TML will not have to pay the usual taxes to the WB government for about 30 years). The loan will be essentially at a nominal interest rate of 0%, which is just another way of saying that the TML gets a loan at negative real interest rates (i.e., negative of the annual rate of inflation). So, in real terms the WBIDC will not only give a loan to the TML but will also pay interest to TML for the loan that it has given to the TML! From the perspective of TML, it would be difficult to think of a better example of `having the cake and eating it too’. But make no mistake. This largesse to the corporate sector is essential if we are to embark on a path of industrialization. Or so the West Bengal government would have us believe.
The last part of 7(a) seems even better. It says: `WBIDC will ensure that the loan under this head is paid within 60 days of the close of the previous year (on 31st March) failing which WBIDC will be liable to compensate TML for the financial inconvenience caused @ 1.5 times the bank rate prevailing at the time on the amount due for the period of such delay’. What does this mean?
It means that if the WBIDC is not able to make the loan to TML within 60 days of the close of the financial year, it will penalise ITSELF by compensating TML at 1.5 times the bank rate. Wonderful! And what is the interest rate charged on the loan? 0%. Fantastic. What if TML is not able or willing to pay back the loan? Doesn’t matter. WBIDC will move on. There is no mention of any penalty that might be slapped on TML for failure to pay back the loan (principal or interest)! Any collateral? No. This is `prudent banking’ at it’s best! But make no mistake. This novel and ultimately unbeatable form of prudent banking is essential if West Bengal is to embark on the path of industrialization. Or so the West Bengal government would have us believe.
But there is more. 7(c) of the agreement says: `The West Bengal Govt. will provide TML a loan of 200 crores @ 1% interest per year repayable in 5 equal installments starting from the 21st year from the date of the disbursement of the loan’. This loan, moreover, `will be disbursed within 60 days of this agreement’. This loan will not only cover the payments that TML has to make for the 645.6 acres of land that has been given to it by the government but also cover it’s other possible costs of setting up the plant and starting operations; and the real interest rate is again negative! Then there is the `virtual gift of 650 acres of prime land to Tata Housing Development Company (THDC) in Rajarhat New Town and in the adjoining Bhangar Rajarhat Area Development Authority for building an IT and residential township along with WBIDC as a partner‘, which was portrayed as `infrastructural support’ for the Singur project!
It is important, therefore, for us to recognize the true character of agreements like the one `struck’ between the TML and the West Bengal government. It is important to understand how such `agreements’ look like under a neo-liberal regime. It is important for left and progressive activists, but also the concerned citizens, to realize that all such agreements essentially are geared towards the State effectively subsidizing capital with the revenues earned from direct and indirect taxes, which anyway the corporate entities always try to avoid paying. As has been demonstrated, the Tata Group has enough resources to buy out European and US firms, but when it comes to `industrializing’ a poor state like West Bengal, it requires soft loans (with effectively negative interest rates) and other subsidies like tax exemptions to even consider making `investments’. One must ask the functionaries of the West Bengal government whether this is industrialization or exploitation? It seems to us that the entire TML-Singur project is a net loss for the people of West Bengal. This is simply because the losses are direct, immediate and tangible (with the money going out of the exchequer, revenue loss in terms of tax rebates, loss of agricultural land and loss of livelihoods) whereas the gains are intangible and at the moment residing in the realm of possibility (possible employment generation, possible investment-friendly image and what not).
Agreement between Tata Motors Ltd., Government of West Bengal and WBIDC
1. Tata Motors Ltd. (TML) was intending to set up a manufacturing Plant for Automobile Products including “Tata Small Car” to manufacture 250,000 cars per annum on 2 shift basis which could be expanded to 350,000 on 3 shift basis. In addition, it would have several Vendors and act as a mother plant for many aggregates to tune of 500,000 cars. In this connection, TML was considering locating the plant in the States of Uttarakhand/ Himachal Pradesh in view of the fiscal incentive package for the rapid industrialization being made available by the Govt. of India to new Industries in these States which has been attracting a large number of industries to these States. The incentive package in Uttarakhand/Himachal Pradesh consists of:-
(a) 100% exemption from Excise Duty for 10 years.
(b) 100% exemption from Corporate Income Tax for first 5 years and 30% exemption from Corporate Income Tax for next 5 years.
2. The Government of West Bengal (GoWB) is keen to take appropriate steps for rapid industrialization in West Bengal and in this connection wanted to attract some major Automobile Projects to the State. The Government of West Bengal approached TML to persuade them to locate an Automobile Project including the project to manufacture “Tata Small Car” in West Bengal. TML showed interest in locating the plant in West Bengal, provided the State gave Fiscal incentive equivalent to the value of total incentives it would have received by locating the plant in Uttarakhand / Himachal Pradesh. GoWB offered to match the financial incentives in equivalent terms and invited TML to set up the Small Car plant in West Bengal entailing investment of over Rs. 1500 crores by TML. In addition, Vendors supporting the project are likely to make further investment of over Rs. 500 crores.
3. Since then numerous discussions have been held and based on this understanding, GoWB proceeded with identification of various lands for this mega project. Land of approximately 1000 acres chosen in P. S. Singur of District Hooghly was finalized with TML. West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation Ltd. (WBIDC) commenced the process of acquisition of this land. The process was completed with the Declaration of Award under Section 11 of the Land Acquisition Act, and thereafter WBIDC has obtained mutation of ownership in its name in the Record-of-Rights, and conversion of usage of the land from agriculture to factory.
4. WBIDC is in possession of 997.11 acres of land, which has been acquired under the Land Acquisition Act. Out of this, an area admeasuring 645.67 acres will be leased to TML for setting up the Automobile Project including the small car plant, while an area admeasuring 290 acres will be leased to the vendors to this Automobile Project approved by TML (ancillary and component manufacturing units), 14.33 acres will be handed over by WBIDC to WBSEB only for construction of 220/132/33 KV substation and the balance admeasuring 47.11 acres will be used by WBIDC for rehabilitation activities for the needy families amongst the Project affected persons.
5. The terms of lease to TML for the 645.67 acres of land for the mother plant are described below. In addition, WBIDC will provide on lease 290 acres of land to the Vendors selected and approved by TML on payment of Premium equal to the actual cost of acquisition plus incidentals, to be calculated on the basis of the total acquisition cost and other incidental expenses expended by WBIDC or any of its subsidiaries (duly certified by its auditor) averaged over the total land acquired. The lease rental payable per year per acre by the vendors will be Rs. 8000/- per acre for the first 45 (forty five) years and Rs. 16000/- per acre for the next 45 (forty five) years. The initial lease tenure will be 90 years. On expiry of 90 years, the lease terms will be fixed on mutually agreed terms at that point of time.
6. The parties also discussed mutually to finalise the package of incentives required in order to enable GoWB to fulfill its commitment to match in equivalent financial terms the fiscal incentive foregone by TML in Uttarakhand. The Net Present Value (NPV) computation of benefits that the project would have received in Uttarakhand is attached in Annexure I which is agreed to by all the parties. Sample computation of benefits in West Bengal with stated assumptions is given in Annexure II which is accepted by all parties as agreed basis of computation. The NPV is calculated @ 11%.
7. Accordingly, it is finally agreed, in supersession of all previous decisions and agreements in this regard, that for this mega project, the fiscal incentives under Industrial Promotion Assistance in terms of the West Bengal Incentive Scheme (WBIS 2004), assistance towards land cost and interest subsidy in the form of a loan against a quantum of the term loan to be taken by TML for this project will be offered by GoWB as follows:-
(a) WBIDC will provide Industrial Promotion Assistance in the form of a Loan to TML at 0.1% interest per annum for amounts equal to gross VAT and CST received by GoWB in each of the previous years ended 31st March on sale of “Tata Small Car” from the date of commencement of sales of the small car. This benefit will continue till the balance amount of the Uttarakhand benefit (after deducting the amount as stated in para 7b and 7c below) is reached on net present value basis, after which it shall be discontinued. The loan with interest will be repayable in annual installments starting from 31st year of commencement of sale from the plant. The loan availed in the first year will be repaid in the 31st year and the loan availed in the 2nd year will be repaid in the 32nd year and so on. WBIDC will ensure that the loan under this head is paid within 60 days of the close of the previous year (on 31st March) failing which WBIDC will be liable to compensate TML for the financial inconvenience caused @ 1.5 times the bank rate prevailing at the time on the amount due for the period of such delay. TML & GoWB will make best efforts to maximize sale of products from the “Small Car Plant” in the State of West Bengal.
(b) WBIDC will provide 645.67 acres of Land to Tata Motors Ltd on a 90 year lease, on an annual lease rental of Rs. 1 crore per year for first 5 years with an increase @ 25% after every 5 years till 30 years. On expiry of 30 years, the lease rental will be fixed at Rs. 5 crores per year, with an increase @ 30% after every 10 years till the 60th year. On the expiry of 60 years, the lease rental will be fixed at Rs. 20 crores per year, which will remain unchanged till the 90th year. On expiry of 90 years the lease terms will be fixed on mutually agreed terms at that point of time. The benefit on account of land would be calculated as the total land area leased out to TML multiplied by the cost of acquisition calculated in the manner as provided in para 5 less NPV of rent payable during 60 years.
(c) The West Bengal Govt. will provide to TML a loan of Rs. 200 crores bearing @ 1% interest per year repayable in 5 equal annual installments starting from the 21st year from the date of disbursement of loan. This loan will be disbursed within 60 days of signing of this Agreement.
(d) The West Bengal Government will provide Electricity for the project at Rs. 3/- per KWH. In case of more than Rs. 0.25 per KWH increase in tariff in every block of five years, the Government will provide relief through additional compensation to neutralize such additional increase.
8. It is also agreed that the computation of the comparison of benefits in Annexure I and II will be changed if there are any changes in the rates of excise duty and corporate income tax during the next 10 years.