Anil Agarwal: This decade is for India. World’s looking to invest here: Anil Agarwal, Chairman, Vedanta Group

The economy may have slowed down, but it won’t last long, says Anil Agarwal, chairman of Vedanta group. The London–based metals-to-oil maven, who addressed IIM-Calcutta students on entrepreneurship on Saturday, says he is not worried about the decline in latest GDP figures. “The way of doing business in India is changing. Money is now accountable. You cannot juggle with taxes. Black money has received a severe hammering. It is because of these reasons that in the very short term, the economy has slowed down,” he tells ET in an interview. Edited excerpts:

You must have noted the latest GDP figures. What according to you are the key steps that the government should undertake to jumpstart the economy?
The way of doing business in India is changing. Money is now accountable. You cannot juggle with taxes. Black money has received a severe hammering. It is because of these reasons that in the very short term, the GDP has slowed down. The repercussions of these moves will be very different. There will be a comfort of doing business. Gone will be the days when only one set of people with political clout, bank reference, etc., could succeed. A wider range of people will now be able to do business. If you have a good project, banks will fund you. I see double-digit growth in auto, construction, electricity, durables.

There is very little capital expenditure happening. Job creation is also a major concern. What should the government do to give confidence to the industry?
This decade is for India. The world is looking at making investments here. There is much equity available. Look at SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son and his investment plans for India. However, since money is now accountable, some borrowers are thinking twice about making investments leading to low capex. The government should simplify rules while remaining strong on implementing environment policy. If forest clearances are allowed within two months instead of a year, for instance, projects will move faster. In case of oil, it is sold to the government at a 10% discount. This has to be removed. Investors should be allowed to get international prices. The cap on iron ore production should be removed and miners should be encouraged to produce more. This sector gives the government largest revenue. As PM (Narendra) Modi says, there should be less government. That will benefit the sector. I am looking forward to a time when 50% of our oil, gold, iron ore, diamond will be produced in India. We should aim to be a net exporter of these commodities rather than being a net importer. That will change our country.

Would you look at any stressed assets in steel and power, under the National Company Law Tribunal?
Isn’t this a great opportunity to go for vertical integration? I have no idea when they will be auctioned. I do not want to put my effort into it at this point in time. As and when a prospect arises, thirty days in advance, we’ll see. We could be interested. But right now I am not too excited about it. But it has brought in accountability and the world has appreciated it.

Would you favour creation of a combined natural resources ministry, comprising oil, natural gas and minerals? What are its advantages?
I think we should have a single ministry for everything below the ground, be it coal, minerals or oil. We have to simplify rules with strong penalties for non-compliance. We need to unify our regulatory and approval process across the board by reducing at least 80% of processes as well as clearance time. This will attract investment and help develop natural resources-based ancillary industries and create jobs here. People are keen to invest.

What is the capex for the group for the next three years? What needs to be done to spur private sector investment in the country?
We are looking at investing $8-9 billion ( Rs 51,200-57,600 crore) to expand our capacity in oil and gas, iron ore, aluminium, and zinc by nearly 50% over the next few years. This will create 40,000 direct and indirect jobs.

You have achieved large-scale success through entrepreneurship, starting out from a small base. What’s your suggestion to the government on boosting entrepreneurship in India, especially in manufacturing?
I think we need to encourage setting up of more and more small and medium enterprise business units in manufacturing. We have to encourage youngsters to choose a product, prepare a bankable project and develop it. I am talking to students across universities and B-schools like IIMs urging every student to be in a hurry and have a fire in the belly. I have also spoken to NITI Aayog on this.

What was the key message in your interaction with the students of IIM-Calcutta?
When I was speaking at IIM-Calcutta, students wanted to know how they can become the next Anil Agarwal. I told them you can be better than me. Young people should create jobs, not ask for jobs. There is so much opportunity now. I told them you should have a fire in your belly. Be in a hurry.

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