Looking to exit

It is rumoured that the ministry of finance is looking into the grievance voiced by institutional investors and a clutch of private equity investors to provide an exit for them in their investments in stock exchanges. If reports are to be believed Jayant Sinha, the minister of state finance, is convinced that an IPO is the best exit mode. And he may well be able to persuade the BSE and NSE to accelerate the process for the IPO.

The way forward

Lighting major Surya Roshni Ltd (SRL) is exploring newer avenues to grow its business. Thanks to its strong network of retailers, the fan busi­ness (which was launched in January 2014) has received a good response in a relatively shorter period of time. Encouraged by the good response, the company has entered the home appliances business and will also be venturing into the business of pro­viding solar-based lighting systems for rural and urban use. Meanwhile in the lighting business, there has been a structural shift in the industry, which presents new growth oppor­tunity for the company in the LED (light emitting diodes) segment. Cit­ing the cost efficient nature of LEDs, the Electric Lamp and Components Manufacturers Association (ELCOMA) projects the share of LEDs to increase substantially, going forward. Major government initiatives, like chang­ing all street and public space lights to LEDs, are expected to fuel the growth of the sector. As a result, the lighting industry is expected to grow at a CAGR of 22.8 per cent over FY14- 17E to ?25,000 crore and reach the ?37,000 crore mark by FY21. This bodes well for the lighting compa­nies in general.

Debt reduction

The real estate sector is still in trouble with many developers stuck in debt. But K.P. Singh of the Delhi-based DLF is desperately trying to reduce debt and improve balance and is consider­ing various options to do so. Accord­ing to an insider, although Singh has not made much or rather slow prog­ress on a stake sale in the DevCo projects, DLF is now looking to partly monetise its annuity assets via a stake sale to a private equity partner or a REIT listing, whichever is faster. This is a step in the right direction, given that the promoter CCPS con­version deadline of March 2016, it is also beneficial to provide an exit via asset sales rather than through equity dilution. Given its high debt and planned capex, monetising its annu­ity assets to reduce debt remains key for the company’s growth plans.

Asset light

A listed education entity, Tree House Education & Accessories Ltd (THEAL) is all set to embark on increasing its geographic presence. In the past few years, the company has increased the number of its pre-school branches at a rapid pace, from 302 in FY12 to 647 (till July 2015) both in the self-oper­ated branches and franchisees format. At present, the company’s branches are concentrated in Maharashtra, with the region accounting for over 40 per cent of its branches. THEAL is now looking to expand the number of its pre-schools on a large scale and across different regions, with par­ticular focus on the Delhi and NCR region. The company would be add­ing over 150 pre-schools in FY16. THEAL has already expanded its day­care footprint to 190 centers. It has entered into tie-ups with large cor­porates in the IT, ITeS, banking and consulting space to provide day-care services for their employees. In addi­tion, the company has started pro­viding school management services to 24K-12 schools in three states in India. The company is now focus­sing on monetising its investments in K-12 school premises and moving towards an asset-light model while it would continue to provide educa­tional services in this segment. The company owned five setups (land & building) including one in collabora­tion with a joint venture (IV) partner; THEAL has a 50 per cent stake in the JV. Of these, the company has sold one school property for ?17crore; for another property, it has signed an MoU for sale of its land and build­ing in Vadodara for a consideration of ?52.5 crore. All this is a move towards a greater focus on expan­sion and debt reduction. The com­pany expects to be virtually debt free within two years.

Eye attraction

The new Kolkata Eye project, along the lines of the London Eye, is attracting attention even before the construction has started. Kolkata residents are looking forward to the construction by the river. The proj­ect will revitalise a whole stretch of around 2 km along the river, which will hopefully emerge as a major city centre attraction. The public will welcome this as a change from mill­ing around in malls for an evening’s entertainment.

Seeding entrepreneurs

The onus to usher in smooth functioning rests with all the news report of the second generation of Indian immigrants in Silicon valley, emerging as the most promising groups of tech founders in the US, is undoubtedly a matter of pride for Indians across the world. And it is also worth tom-tombing about and indulging in some chest thumping. Not just because they are Indians, but whose earlier genre had also seen many entrepreneurs building global class ventures.

The point is not about the success of the new breed but rather the issues behind their success. What is it that makes these young Indians shun the fancy jobs offered by MNCs and other firms and take the bold step to brave it out on their own? In India, our mindset of success is still antiquated. Stable jobs, pref­erably in government offices, public sector banks or private institutions, is what makes prospective mothers-in-law happy. The entire education system and higher learning seem to be done with a singular aim of improv­ing better job prospects and nothing more. The smog enveloping business ventures is such that people tend to eye a business­man with suspicion. If he is successful, the general perception is that he must have done something wrong, greased palms of bureaucrats or got patronage from the min­isters. Legacy of corruption is something so entwined with business that it becomes dif­ficult to break the shackles around the mind. We are unable to accept a view that the foundations of a successfully run enterprise need not necessarily be built on corruption and sleaze.

Instead of merely mouthing platitudes about improving the ease of doing busi­ness at every available public fora, in India and overseas, Narendra Modi and his team need to do a fair amount of introspection on building an environment conducive to fostering entrepreneurship. The labyrinth of antiquated laws and rules are enough to deter budding entrepreneurs. The few brave hearts who do venture out often retreat in the face of legal jams. Local officials starting from the zilla parishad onwards and going right up to the service tax collectors, profes­sion tax, establishment tax, excise and right up to the tax officials seem to have a sole
aim on how to penalise the entrepreneur who make even a marginal slip, knowingly or unknowingly.

One may well argue that it is not just a suitable environment that leads to mush­rooming of entrepreneurs. The youngsters in the US, earlier known as the land of the brave and adventurous, may not really have to bother about where they would be getting the next meal from. Having worked their way all through the college, doing part time jobs, be they in hotels or stores, there is no inhibi­tions about doing or not doing physical work. There is no social stigma of any kind attached to labour. Is it the early upbringing in a free society that encourages entrepreneurship? One cannot lament that US-born Indians are probably smarter than others. The genes are, after all, from the same stock and, hopefully, not genetically modified. Even if, for argu­ment’s sake, one does concede that the US- born Indians are smarter and more business savvy than their poor cousins in India, the litmus test will be to see if those US-based Indians can set up their enterprise in India or vice-versa? While Indians may probably do well in the US, the other hypothesis of US Indians flirting with success here may not be true.

The government may well extol students to don the hats of entrepreneurs and make back-of-the-envelope calculations about how each enterprise can generate jobs to ensure a steady stream of placement for students coming out from the education factories seeded across the countries. But it requires a lot more to usher in a favourable environ­ment, where entrepreneurs can thrive. Sen­sitising officials is but just one of the several initiatives needed to be taken.

Of course, the Indian society also has to play its part by democratising entrepreneur- ship, instead of merely goading students to do well in the education factories. The reali­sation that all ideas do not necessarily turn to enterprises and all enterprises do not become the Microsoft or Google of the world also has to be imprinted in the minds of the would-be parent. The culture to celebrate failures also has to be ushered in, if serial entrepreneurs are to be encouraged. But that is something for debate at a later date.        ♦


Plenty of Inane muscle-flexing

TVs should behave responsibly during global uncertainty

At a time when the global economic situation is looking a tad unhealthy – with the recent sneeze by China rattling the stock markets – and the recovery of the United States still being slow, the decision of some central trade unions, led by the Congress-affiliated INTUIT and the left outfits, to go on strike is unfortunate. The Indian economy, which is on a path to recovery, cannot afford such frequent interruptions. With dark clouds continuing to appear on the global economic horizon, the country needs to unite politically to tackle the challenges.

As representatives of the interests of the working classes, TUs should take a wider view of the situation. An economic slowdown is not going to help anybody. If factories close down or are hit by the slowdown, work­ers will be the first casualties. Thus, strikes amount to inane muscle-flexing.

The decision to go on strike was taken despite assurances by the government on some of the key demands raised by the TUs during a two-day meeting with a group of Union ministers, led by Arun Jaitley. Indeed, the inter-ministerial committee agreed to move a step forward on demands of the TUs by significantly increasing minimum wages, besides making them mandatory across the country, increasing the bonus ceiling and widening the coverage of provident fund and health insurance to include construction as well as workers in schemes such as aangan- wadis. In the last two months, the govern­ment has met TUs thrice in July and twice in August to discuss their 12-point charter of demands.

Efforts are afoot to find a solution to each of their demands. For instance, the labour ministry is set to move a Cabi­net note to make minimum wages depen­dent on a formula that will be mandatory for all states and across all categories of workers. Rough calculations by the labour ministry suggest that wages for unskilled workers could range from ?7,100 to ?10,000 per month across three categories of states, while that for skilled workers would range between ?14,200 and ?20,000, a signifi­cant jump from the existing national floor level wage of less than ?5,000 a month that was only advisory in nature. However, TUs
have been demanding a minimum wage of ?15,000 a month.

Another proposal finder consideration includes increasing the ceiling on bonuses from the current ?3,500 to ?10,000 and increasing the eligibility for such payments to workers earning up to ?20,000 a month as against ?10,000 now. The unions, however, have demanded removal of all ceilings on payment and eligibility, provident fund and an increase in the quantum of gratuity.

But there are divisions within the trade union movement. The Rashtriya Swayamse- vak Sangh-backed Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), which claims to have the second high­est union membership in the country, of 17.1 million, is wary of precipitate moves. It feels that the government should be given time to implement its assurance like increasing the bonus ceiling and the eligibility limit, a new formula to considerably increase minimum wages, expansion of coverage of the social security net and labour law reforms via a tripartite mechanism.

This is the second time that the BMS is not participating in a strike since all central TUs came together in one forum in 2009. Since 2009, the unions have jointly called a strike each in 2010, 2012 and 2013. The BMS had refused to participate in the 2010 strike due to some organisational campaign. The divi­sions stretch beyond the BMS – which has a soft corner for the Modi government. Hind Mazdoor Sangh also had some but wanted some steps to be taken to address their concerns. The striking unions, on the other hand, wanted the government to immediately agree to their demands, such as some changes to their new formula to cal­culate minimum wages or assurance that labour law reforms will happen only after a broad consensus.

A countrywide strike does not send out an encouraging signal to investors abroad. While dealing firmly with arm-twisting TUs, the government also needs to reassure work­ers that their interests are safe. One way of doing it is by creating conditions for fresh investments that will generate jobs. India currently has a labour force of 500 million with 12 million joining every year. So far, jobs are just not happening.                                         ♦


We are prepared to deal with bad monsoon7

Agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh is a senior BJP leader from Bihar. The Modi government’s handling of the agriculture sector during its first year in office has drawn some criticism. Singh rebuts the criticism and claims that the government is well-prepared to tackle the after-effects of the coming monsoon, if it turns out to be deficient

IMD has revised its weather forecast and now says the monsoon will be deficient. Should that not worry you?

We are taking stock and I have directed my officers to give updated reports on the preparations. In fact, immediately after the April forecast, my officers held discussions with state officials to understand the. situation. We have prepared a contingency plan for 580 districts. Now that the forecast has been lowered further, I have directed that the plans be updated.

Officials are also talking to agencies like the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture. I will also hold discussion with IMD. But, we are better prepared this time than last year to deal with uneven rain. Last year, too, IMD had lowered its forecast during this time of the year. We had just come to power and faced a drought-like situation. Everyone was tensed up. But our ministry worked hard to minimise the damage. There were losses in production but the losses were not that huge. Also, there are alternate seed varieties available, if there is deficient rain and the drought management panel is monitoring the situation. Of course, there will be some losses if there is deficient rain, but we are confident that our policies will ensure minimum damage to the sector and the economy.

Recent data has shown that growth of agriculture and allied sectors has dropped from 3.7 per
cent in 2013-14 to 0.2 per cent in 2014-15. In fact, production fell in the third and fourth quarters. Is this a worrying sign?

It is correct that growth was negative in the third and fourth quarters of 2014-15, due to the uneven monsoon and uncertain rain during the rabi season. But, if you look at the gross value added in agriculture and allied activities, it has grown from ?15.23 lakh crore (adjusted for inflation) in 2012-13, to ?15.79 lakh crore in 2013-14 and ?15.83 lakh crore in 2014-15. This was triggered mainly by the fisheries and livestock sector, which has grown faster than crops.

What initiatives have you taken during the last one year?

I have already spoken about our initiatives like Gokul Mission and Blue Revolution, which have given a boost to livestock and fisheries. Another initiative was on organic farming. We sanctioned ?300 crore for it, with a special focus on the northeastern states. The entire focus has been on lowering the cost of production for farmers through less use of fertiliser, while increasing the value of their produce.

When I came into this ministry, only ?72 crore was spent (in a year) on soil testing and there were 13 mobile soil testing labs. We sanctioned ?80 crore in the first year itself and started almost 100 mobile soil testing labs. Then, we embarked on a massive scheme to give soil health cards to all the 130-plus
million farmer families. For this, over ?500 crore was sanctioned for three years, of which we have given about ?200 crore to states in 2014-15.

Why have your delayed the announcement of MSP for key crops?

I do not feel the announcement of MSP has been delayed. We are planning to announce it over the next two weeks.

What are your immediate worries on the food situation?

While the government had ample supply of rice and wheat, there are concerns over pulses; but, my ministry has been working on ways to supplement domestic supply through imports. We imported a record 4.5 million tonnes of pulses last year and are ready to import more when required. We are working on raising pulses and oilseeds production too. Data on the states’ requirements is also being collated.

How important is the agriculture sector to the Modi government?

Agriculture and allied sectors in India account for 17.2 per cent of GDP and 14 per cent of exports. Almost half the population is dependent on agriculture as the prime source of income. We, therefore, have to keep the momentum of growth of agriculture to achieve targeted growth of its economy and meeting the increasing and diverse demand of food.