Adani Group Chairman Gautam Adani, 51, is under attack from the Congress for his proximity with Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. In an email interview with Dev Chatterjee, Adani rejects the allegation that he was allotted land to his group’s infrastructure projects at a discounted rate. Excerpts:
The Adani group has been accused of getting land almost free from the Modi government in Gujarat. What’s your defence?
We have been developing a port and a special economic zone in a phased manner at Mundra in Gujarat since 1993. Since then, different governments have allotted land during different phases of development after assessing the need and complying with all procedural requirements. We have not received any concession in land allotment.
A sizeable part of the land was allotted during the Modi regime...
The said land was owned by the government and was absolutely barren and unfit for agricultural activity. We have never acquired any private agricultural land through the government’s acquisition route. There is not a single instance till date where the valuation at which government land has been allotted to us has been proved to be incorrect.
But how do you defend the fact that you got land almost free?
It is unfair if one compares the price of the land before and after development. We have developed the land during the past 20 years by investing over Rs 50,000 crore and creating world-class infrastructure. We have no clue why we have been targeted. One of the reasons might be that we are one of the largest Gujarat-based infrastructure companies and, hence, we have become a soft target.
Are you dismissing everything as political rhetoric?
There were no such wild and baseless allegations against Adani or any other large business house, which have significant presence in Gujarat till the elections were announced and the campaign started for this year’s elections.
The Congress has identified you as the main beneficiary of Modi’s largesse.
We are witnessing that a couple of politicians are making wild and baseless allegations and are attacking entrepreneurs, for the first time in the country’s history. We do respect the views and opinion of all political parties. However, in this politically-charged atmosphere, personal attacks are either politically motivated or due to poorly informed and ill-advised individuals. This is disheartening and discouraging.
Do you expect these attacks to stop after elections?
We have made huge investments in infrastructure projects in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Haryana. These investments are in the infrastructure sector and need clear government policies and cooperation for their implementation. Hence, we need to work closely with the government. We are getting excellent support from all states, irrespective of different ruling parties. This is normal as this sector is the priority sector for the government and is the backbone of the growth for the economy. I hope these allegations will gradually subside.
You are making a massive investment of $10 billion in Australia. Is this due to increasing political risk in India?
The investments in Australia are to augment energy resources of the country. India has the third-largest reserves of coal in the world but due to extensive and elaborate procedures coupled with slow decision making, we have been lagging in coal mining. The investments by Indian companies, including Adani, outside India in coal mining are to ensure India’s energy security.
Latest statistics show that new projects in India are consistently falling and entrepreneurs are unwilling to start new projects? What’s your take on this?
The investments in new projects have slowed down as there is widespread administrative indecisiveness coupled with ambiguities on policy matters. The government is finding it difficult to defend its own policy many a times.
These are on account of coalition compulsions, unwarranted debates; hyper activism by environmentalists, litigation etc. The other major concern is inflation, which has led to stiff interest rates on debt for projects. This further erodes financial viability of projects and acts as a deterrent to new investment.
In few weeks, a new government will take charge in New Delhi. What will you suggest to the next government to expedite infrastructure projects in India?
The primary job of the next government at the Centre is to speed up the decision making process by formulating clear-cut policies coupled with speedy implementation of the same.
Secondly, I expect it to minimize government and maximize governance through policy initiatives like setting up independent apolitical sector regulators. Finally, the government should support industry and trade in the international markets, specifically to protect its interests.
India is land of opportunities and the need of the hour is to invite entrepreneurs to participate in the growth story through well defined and transparent PPP (public, private partnerships) initiatives.
We, therefore, hope the next government focuses on speeding up decision making and acting as an enabler for removing the hurdles in project execution. If we just focus on this, the confidence of investors both in India and abroad would increase, investments would start flowing and jobs would get created. This would be the biggest multiplier enabling the growth of our economy.
Adani group has emerged as India's largest power company as well Port Company. How did you manage to accomplish this feat?
We have focused our efforts in timely completion of projects, and creating capacities ahead of demand. Secondly we have opted for efficiency in all our endeavors.
In port sector, we have set up world’s largest fully mechanized coal import terminal to ensure highest efficiency at lowest cost. In power sector we have commissioned country’s first energy efficient and environment friendly super critical power plant.
We take 360 degree view of the project and start working towards removing external bottle necks parallel to our project implementation. In port sector to ensure evacuation of goods, we had set up private railway track to connect Mundra with national railway network in 2002, the same has been expanded by doubling the lines in 2013 to take care of increased cargo.
Similarly for our power projects, we have set up close to 2,000 KM of electricity transmission lines for evacuating power from our plants in Mundra as well as Tiroda. All this ensures that assets build at huge cost do not idle due to external constraints.