Tata, DoCoMo signal thaw, to seek RBI nod to remit $1.17 bn

With Ratan Tata at the helm of Tata Sons, the Tata group and NTT DoCoMo are planning to settle their differences by making a fresh application to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), seeking permission for Tata Sons to remit $1.17 billion to the Japanese company to buyback DoCoMo’s 26.5 per cent stake in Tata Teleservices — a loss-making joint venture.

Lawyers from both sides are working to find a way out. A source said, the government may give permission to the transaction to convey the message of ease of doing business in India.

A settlement plan will be filed by both parties in the Delhi High Court, which had earlier asked them to settle the matter amicably, in the next hearing on December 1. DoCoMo had moved the Delhi High Court in July, asking it to enforce the award it won in the London Court of Arbitration in June this year.

When contacted, spokespersons of Tata Sons and DoCoMo declined to comment on the issue. An RBI spokesperson said, the central bank doesn’t comment on individual cases.

A source said the Tatas, under Interim Chairman Ratan Tata, want to wrap up the litigation with DoCoMo so that the group meets its obligation as part of the 2009 contract, which gave an exit option to DoCoMo. Also, the group is losing Rs 2 crore a day in interest on its deposit of $1.17 billion (about Rs 7,800 crore) with the Delhi High Court. Since July 29, the group has lost Rs 180 crore in interest on the deposit. By the end of this month, the Tatas will lose another Rs 60 crore in interest, taking the total to Rs 240 crore. This money would have been enough to seed a few new businesses, said a source.

Interestingly, the Tatas were represented in the dispute by noted lawyer Darius Khambata, who quit as a trustee in Tata Trusts, just a day after Cyrus Mistry was removed as the chairman of Tata Sons.

The litigation between DoCoMo and Tata Sons was cited among the causes of friction between Mistry and Tata. In a handwritten letter to Tata Trusts members just a month before Mistry's ouster, Tata trustee N A Soonawala had blamed Mistry for the financial mess in three companies: Tata Steel Europe, Tata Motors and Tata Teleservices. Besides, Ratan Tata was also against the litigation with DoCoMo.

Former chairman Mistry had cited the RBI rule that barred buying back shares at any pre-determined valuation. Sources said two days before Mistry was removed, he was negotiating with DoCoMo in Singapore. Soonawala's memo asked why Tata Sons board and its shareholders were sitting back. “Tata Sons board must protect their financial interests and the values associated with the Tata name,” Soonawala, a close confidant of Tata, had asked.

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