Vedanta chief Anil Agarwal is on a roll with global prices of zinc and aluminium rising sharply over the past few months. Indeed, profits almost doubled in fiscal 2017. Vedanta may still not be in the league of Australian mining majors BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto but is on track to enter the big boys club soon. Business Today's Rajeev Dubey spoke to Anil Agarwal on the way forward. Excerpts.
Q: How good is the commodity cycle for you? How long will it last?
A: I tell my people that everybody is going to die but you must die last. Costs should be low and product quality good. We are moving with the determination of being the last man standing. I think it's going to be long cycle. I don't see it bearish for the next five to seven years. I am bullish on oil also.
Q: Are you confident Niyamgiri will be resolved?
A: We have moved on. I must have lost a lot of money there. It was an amazing era where we did not move a blade of grass and there were allegations of illegal mining, moving people, removing people. People don't want India to develop.
Q: Have you ever considered moving investments out of India?
A: In 13 years we have taken limited borrowings from banks and stock markets. We've borrowed and raised all the money from abroad. It's real FDI- $33 billion - and we've put it into this country. And the asset is almost 1 per cent of the country's GDP. We've gone to Africa, but for me this is my forte. I have no regrets.
Q: Will you get into steel? What about acquisitions? There's Essar Steel on offer
A: Iron ore and steel are different. We are looking at steel but we haven't finalized anything. There's nothing on the cards, nor are we interested.
Q: What's your next step for bauxite since Niyamgiri hasn't happened?
A: India has the world's third largest bauxite reserves. The government believes in auctions. We are telling the government that you auction after exploration. Instead, you should auction before that.
Q: Where is the de-leveraging headed?
A: Aisi balance sheet duniya mein hai hi nahin (There's no balance sheet like ours in the world). Our total debt is $4 billion. Our profit this year will be more than that. Debt is nothing.
Q: Did you check your investments because of higher debt earlier?
A: Now, I'm looking to invest $8 billion in India over three years. That will raise our capacity by 50 per cent.
Q: What would you like Vedanta to be known for?
A: Vedanta can fundamentally be another Exxon, BHP. On the strength of that, thousands of industries should be created which will take raw materials and develop our society, be it construction, electricity or infrastructure. All these require raw materials and we don't have to import. Second, our personal profit should go back to the society.
Q: Are you looking outside commodities?
A: We have Sterlite Telecommunications. We are going to set up the largest unit for making TV glass, shell glass and computer glass around Nagpur. It will be a hub for Japanese companies to set up units to supply components. It's a $10 billion investment. We may look at coal, gold and diamonds.
Q: Any worries from the environment push?
A: The first thing we look at is HSE-health safety and environment. With advanced technology, we must have zero discharge, zero waste and zero harm. The biggest thing is safety of our people. It's a challenge. We have 1000 people in HSE, with expats heading it.
Q: What keeps you occupied?
A: India needs to understand that the method to remove poverty and create jobs lies below the ground. We have to change things fundamentally. Trump has restarted coal mines, oil production. In India, for some reason the government and external people do not produce and export. That occupies me. If we produce, it has to be processed, which would need thousands of industries. In automobiles alone, 50 items are used, all made of aluminium. These must be made here. The government can reduce regulations and allow people to make money. Then, ancillaries will develop.
Q: Is there a corpus for giving back to society?
A: Whatever earnings we pledged, 75 per cent will go for the foundation. We are looking at a $1 billion university near Puri. Of my shares, 75 per cent will go to the foundation. Each village should have a Nand Ghar. We're started 4,000 now. It will have 50 children and give them nutritious meal, health checkup, value-based education by TV. We are inviting women to train them as entrepreneurs.