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Tarun Das non-committal on sustaining performance -- ACC shareholders rake up `takeover' issue

Our Bureau

MUMBAI, July 13

EVEN though the Associated Cement Companies (ACC) made a turnaround with a first quarter profit of Rs 44 crore, the Chairman, Mr Tarun Das, did not ``commit'' to sustaining the performance through the year.

Addressing shareholders at the 65th annual general meeting of the company, Mr Das said about the outlook for the current year, ``I do not want to be too optimistic, and, I do not want to be pessimistic. Let me only say that ACC will work its guts out to maintain the first quarter performance.''

He said the industry conditions continued to be dull. ``The one single overriding issue which caused the downturn in the economy was infrastructure. Railways were dormant, telecom, limped, minor ports moved ahead but major ones were static, and road buil ding was stagnant. Housing was perhaps the only area which reflected some positive growth,'' Mr Das said.

On the cement industry in particular, he said considering ``the steep escalation in input costs, most of which are still State-administered, we believe that cement prices are still below remunerative levels in some of the markets''.

However, the ``takeover'' of ACC by the Gujarat Ambuja group continued to simmer with some shareholders raising the issue at the AGM.

One shareholder, Mr Piyush Shah, said that the company had not included his remarks made at the previous AGM in the minutes. ``The minutes say that the alliance (Ambuja group buying the Tatas stake) was approved by me, which I did not. In fact, I had opp osed it. I still oppose the back-door entry of the Sheksarias into this company. You should know that the minutes of AGM have to be recorded correctly. My queries in this regard also went unanswered,'' Mr Shah said.

He also said that there was no mention of the open offer sought for by him and some other shareholders.

Another shareholder, Mr J.S. Sanghvi, too sought a buyback offer from the company. ``When a minority shareholder like the Tatas can get a good exit price of Rs 375 per share in spite of abysmal industry conditions why are the other shareholders being ign ored? The regulator (SEBI) too gave a lame excuse saying that there is no material change in management,'' Mr Sanghvi said.

He also opposed the resolution to grant stock options to the directors. ``It is unjustifiable, illegal enrichment of directors. Since the board has to decide the strike price of the shares, and the option is exercisable any time during the year, the dire ctors would get the shares at low prices,'' Mr Sanghvi said. However, he did not vote against the resolution when assured by the ACC Chairman, Mr Tarun Das, that the there would be a floor price below which the option cannot be exercised.

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