Coal India may go buyback way to meet divestment target

CILCIL board may soon take up the twin proposals for approval so that they could be implemented within the current financial year

Unable to get the support of its workers' unions for a proposed follow-on-public offering (FPO), Coal India may finally give in to the government pressure and dig into its vast, Rs 60,000-crore-plus cash reserve to buy back the government's share in the company and even offer the promoter additional funds by declaring a special dividend.

Sources close to the development told FE that the Coal India board may soon take up the twin proposals for approval so that they could be implemented within the current financial year. While the company is still trying to win over the unions for the proposed FPO for which the government has already appointed merchant bankers, it is looking at alternatives under pressure from the finance ministry, which is banking on Coal India to meet its 2013-14 disinvestment target of R40,000 crore.

A 10% disinvestment in Coal India has the potential to fetch close to R20,000 crore or half of this financial year's disinvestment target. Rough estimates by the government suggest that a 5% buyback of shares by Coal India may fetch the exchequer close to R8,000 crore while a R20 per share special dividend could provide another R12,000 crore. So these measures would help fill the government kitty with the originally estimated funds.

A top company official confirmed to FE that the proposal for a 5% share buyback has already been discussed informally by the Coal India board but the matter was yet to be taken up formally. He also said that various options were being looked into, but refused to elaborate, citing the sensitive nature of the matter.

Sources, however, said that a 5% buyback could get the board's go-ahead as early as the end of the current calendar or early next year if, by then, no clarity emerges on the FPO. The declaration of a special dividend may have to wait at least till January end or early February, by when the company finalises its third-quarter results, the sources said.

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