Tata Group chairman N Chandrasekaran’s this speculated move will be a first in the group’s 149-year-old history

Tata Group chairman N Chandrasekaran is evaluating the option of winding down the mobile services business, Tata Teleservices (Tata Tele), after attempts to sell the beleaguered unit failed, people directly aware of the matter said. If the group goes ahead with its plan, it will be the first major Tata unit to be closed down in its 149-year-old history.

If the telecom operations are suspended, the conglomerate will have to take a hit on its balance sheet as Tata Tele has a consolidated debt of over Rs 34,000 crore. Even lenders to Tata Tele may have to take a haircut, perhaps the first time where they may have to take a knock on their exposure to a Tata entity, sources added. Tata Tele has around 45 million subscribers with about 4% share of the Indian mobile telephony market. Disposing of its telecom spectrum could, however, lessen its total debt. “As far as Tata Teleservices is concerned, the group is examining all options at this point in time,” said a Tata Sons spokesperson.

Tata Tele has been through some unsuccessful deal making in recent times, the latest discussions being with Bharti Airtel and even an exploratory talk with Reliance Jio. The telecom services provider has been searching for a new home after Japanese partner DoCoMo, which owns 26%, decided to pull the plug three years ago.

Under former Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry , the company was engaged in advanced discussions for a potential sale with Vodafone, which fell through over valuation differences. A nominee of Tata Trusts -the largest shareholder of Tata Sons -had in the recent past suggested that Tata Tele should explore filing for bankruptcy.

For Chandrasekaran, as far as Tata Tele’s future is concerned, the options are limited. For the group’s chief, it would be better to restrict the promoters’ financial exposure in the loss-making venture rather than pump in more money to keep it alive. Tata Sons recently decided to invest Rs 12,000 crore in the telecom arm. With no buyers for Tata Tele even after offering the group’s direct-to-home business (Tata Sky) and un dersea cable unit (Tata Communications), the most viable option left is to wind down the venture, sources said. As things stand now, the closing down of Tata Tele will happen only after lenders agree to a loan recast programme. The company has approached the lenders’ consortium, led by SBI, for the same, according to recent media reports.

The mobile services business impacted Tata Sons’ financials in fiscal 2017 with profits declining 72% to Rs 832 crore. The holding company of the Tata Group took a hit of Rs 4,000 crore on account of DoCoMo exercising its sale option in Tata Teleservices. Other group companies such as Tata Power, Tata Communications, Tata Steel, Tata Industries and Tata Capital Financial Services also saw an erosion in value in their investment in the financially stressed Tata Tele.

Bombay House, the headquarters of the country’s largest conglomerate, is sitting on a debt pile of $25 billion, which requires Chandrasekaran to take corrective measures towards troubled units like Tata Steel UK, Mundra power plant and the Pierre Hotel in the US.

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