Everybody’s hopeful PM will do something for industry: Anil Agarwal
Confident of action from the government that will arrest the slowdown, Vedanta Group Chairman says Sterlite is ready to invest up to Rs 10,000 cr a year on power transmission.
Agarwal said the economy was broadly in good shape although there was a slowdown, and that his own company had big investment plans in power transmission, including building towers to connect every Kashmiri household to the grid.
“It’s a matter of time. My feeling is that the government will definitely take a few steps: It will make the GST more comfortable, protect domestic industry just as the US and China are now doing, and take steps to increase production of natural resources like coal, iron ore,” he told ET.
Agarwal lauded Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s approach towards the economy, including his comment that the government had no business to be in business.
“I’m very hopeful. It’s a matter of time. The prime minister’s interview in The Economic Times has been read by the whole world,” the London-based tycoon said. Modi had told ET that entrepreneurs are “growth ambassadors” and that the government would do everything to make India a better place for business.
Indian businesses are concerned about slowing of economic growth, weaker factory output and steep fall in the sales of automobiles. Agarwal said everybody was waiting for Modi to take steps to help trade and industry.
“I think every day people are waiting. Like people wait for rain. In Bihar, we used to keep looking at the sky, our neck would start aching. But we were absolutely sure that it would rain. Similarly, the whole country is waiting for the prime minister to do something. And everybody is hopeful that he’s going to do something to help trade and industry,” Agarwal said.
He said policy intervention can accelerate growth and create jobs because on the whole the economy is in good shape. India has maintained fiscal discipline, controlled inflation, improved the ease of doing business, significantly improved the health of banks and reduced interest rates. “There is no major problem with the economy, but it is slow, jobs are less, factory output is low and there are cyclical and international factors,” he said.
Agarwal said the Modi government had taken numerous positive steps in recent years. He was particularly optimistic about the power transmission sector. “Our company Sterlite power has been a leader in this sector with $6 billion worth projects in India and Brazil.”
The country needs to invest up to Rs 8 lakh crore in transmission over the next decade to provide nonstop power to all households.
“The power minister, R.K. Singh is doing a tremendous job. The government has a fantastic programme for PPP in transmission. More than Rs 75,000 crores of projects have already been awarded on transparent auction and because of this tariffs have reduced by 40%. Billions of dollars of foreign investments have been committed into transmission thru Invits, Masala Bonds and more money is waiting to come in,” he said.
Agarwal said he was looking forward to the government transparently awarding projects without favouring the public sector. “Investors are watching for right signal from the government.”
He said Sterlite is ready to invest Rs 5,000 crore to Rs 10,000 crore a year in transmission. Further, the government can mobilise Rs 5 lakh crore by monetising transmission lines of the Centre and states. “This can be used to neutralise discom debt. Indigrid (our Invit) will actively look at these opportunities.”
He said Vedanta would also actively look at business opportunities in Kashmir, where it has already built transmission lines.
“We have done work in Kashmir, and if there are future tenders, we will participate. We will do it in half the time and 30% cost saving. And there will be no funding pressure on the government.
He said the people and authorities of Kashmir were very supportive. “It was a very difficult and challenging job. We had to cover valley after valley, we worked in the snow also. So many of our people stayed there. Contractors came from outside, foreigners also there. They never faced discomfort. The people there are really very nice. We never felt any difficulty of any time ever in our project in Kashmir.”