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Oldest tea company desperately seeks a suitor to stay afloat

By Ron Duarah

DIBRUGARH, April 28 - Following massive bungling of finances and mismanagement of resources, the later Indian owners of the world�s oldest tea company has been finally put to insolvency proceedings. At present called the Assam Company India Limited (ACIL), the Guwahati bench of the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) has given the go ahead to ACIL to look for investors, to write off its colossal debts worth about Rs 1800 crore.

The NCLT bench earlier appointed one Kothari as the Resolution Professional (RP) to iron out the insolvency and reinvestment roadmap. However, he quit and the Tribunal then appointed another chartered accountant, T Kannan, as RP. Kannan, since his appointment in January this year, arranged for resources to pay the workers� and staff wages and allowances. These payments are up-to-date, as of mid April this year.

ACIL, with 14 tea gardens, has about 18,000 employees on its rolls, including the temporary staff. These employees are now looking to Kannan�s skills yet again, for regular disbursal of their dues. While workers and staff have been paid their dues (excluding PF and gratuity), the executives of the company have not been that lucky since February this year.

However, senior executives of the company are hopeful of easier finances in the weeks ahead, as all the 14 tea gardens have commenced tea production from March this year. Unless the creditors act spoilsport, the sale proceeds would be more than enough to pay off the salary bills.

Meanwhile, the RP, Kannan, has till July this year to sort out the debt servicing plan, as well as help to find suitable investors who will rescue the oldest tea company from its self created financial mess. While the present owners have not confirmed it, the financial world believes that ACIL�s real estate and hydrocarbon forays were ill conceived and grossly mismanaged. And that these contributed to the company�s insolvency.

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