Embattled entrepreneur makes a charge for recovery
Mar 31, 2003
Business Standard

Subhrakant Panda, the joint managing director of Indian Charge Chrome Ltd (ICCL), looks a year or two younger than his 30 odd years. There is nothing in his cherubic expression to tell that for almost a decade now he has fought many pitched battles to rehabilitate his company which has been declared a non-performing asset (NPA) with debt exceeding Rs 600 crore. Not just that, these engagements have been accompanied by a generous dose of controversy.

In his latest offer to the financial institutions, Panda has offered to commit 85 per cent of the net cash flows of not only ICCL but also Indian Metals & Ferro Alloys Ltd. (IMFA)-ICCL's promoter company and the Panda family's first industrial venture dating back to 1967 towards paying creditors. The institutions are yet to take a view on the subject, but Panda feels that with global charge chrome prices ruling firm, this is an offer the institutions cannot afford to miss.

Panda is also hopeful of getting over Rs 200 crore from Tata Steel in the near future that will immediately reduce his debt by a third. A few weeks ago, the Kolkata High Court passed an order to appoint a chartered accountant (CA) to evaluate the claim of Rs 211 crore made by ICCL against Tata Steel. ICCL has alleged that Tata Steel reneged on its agreement to place orders for converting chrome ore into charge chrome (used in making stainless steel) with ICCL – a claim contested by Tata Steel – leading to a loss of Rs 211 crore. That ICCL will get the money is still a distant dream - the CA is yet to be appointed and its award can always be challenged in a higher court of law. Still, for Panda, it is a victory of sorts.

Panda is no stranger to corporate battles, legal or otherwise. ICCL, which started operations in 1989, was conceived as a fully integrated producer of charge chrome with a 108 MW coal based captive power plant and captive chrome ore mines. However, the company got the ore mines only in late 1999 and that too after a protracted legal battle. And the power plant reached its full utilization only last year after IMFA raised Rs 50 crore on its balance sheet to finance a new boiler.

ICCL might be on the path to recovery, but it has not kept Panda's detractors from saying that considerable influence peddling has helped him keep ICCL afloat. One, though ICCL's net worth was eroded, the company never was referred to the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR). (Since it was running a power utility, it was exempt from a reference to BIFR.) And two, the company is yet to be served a notice under the securitisation laws in spite of being an NPA.

It is worth noting that Panda's elder brother, Baijayant, is a Biju Janata Dal MP. Panda denies the charge. "In fact, it has worked against the interests of the company," he says.

ICCL may be owing large sums to the financial institutions, but the Pandas have gone ahead and made investments in an entertainment business in their home state of Odisha. "It is a small investment in the cable distribution business and the company, Ortel, is being run by my sister-in-law," Panda clarifies.

If Panda is able to put his business back on track, a part of the credit would go to his academic record. Panda holds a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from the School of Management, Boston University, USA. He graduated with honours summa cum laude with a dual concentration in finance and operations management. He has received various awards and honours in recognition of his outstanding scholastic achievement including an unprecedented 3.95 cumulative grade point average (GPA) out of a possible four. These include being name to the Beta Gamma Sigma Honour Society for Collegiate Schools of Business, Golden Key National Honour Society and Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges (1993). He was also awarded the CBA Class of 1924 Scholarship for the year 1992-93.

The job at hand is to put all that learning into practice.

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Mr Kishore Mohan Mohanty