The Supreme Court Monday agreed to hear next week pleas of telecom companies Vodafone Idea, Tata Teleservices and Bharti Airtel seeking more time to pay adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues to the tune of Rs 1.47 lakh crore to the Department of Telecommunications.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde took note of submissions by senior lawyers A M Singhvi and C A Sundaram and said it will list the fresh pleas “sometime in next week” before the same bench which had heard the earlier petition in the high-stake matter.
“We are not disputing the payment to be made by us rather we want working out of a fresh schedule of payment,” Sundaram told the bench which also comprised justices S A Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna.
The telecom companies said they wanted an open court hearing on their fresh pleas. “That (open court or in-chamber hearing) will be decided by the bench concerned,” the CJI said.
Earlier on January 16, the SC dismissed the petition moved by telecom companies, including Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea, and Tata Teleservices, seeking a review of its judgment last October that upheld the Department of Telecommunication’s definition of AGR and ordered operators to settle liabilities accrued over 14 years within three months from October 24, 2019 and file a compliance report.
In its plea, Vodafone Idea said it was “facing a huge financial stress and is not in a position to make either up front payment of the amounts due or provide any financial bank guarantees to securitise the amounts due”.
”It is therefore impossible for the appellant (Vodafone Idea) to make the entire payment of the aforesaid dues within the short period of three months,” the plea added. The company has also said that a loss of Rs 50, 898 crore in the July-September period due to factoring in of AGR payout had “eroded the net worth and the cash balance”. On the other hand, Bharti Airtel in its plea, stressed upon the larger ramifications, the financial viability of the companies impacted by the AGR judgment, and large scale job losses which could happen if no relief was given.
The apex court had on October 24 last agreed with the DoT’s definition of AGR, and said that the companies, both telecom and non-telecom, must pay all dues they owe to the government along with interest and penalty. Following the judgment, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea had unsuccessfully tried to persuade the DoT to relax the deadline for payment of dues. Having failed there, the companies then moved the apex court with a review of the October 24 judgment. The review petition, which was junked by the court last week, did not give any extension on the deadline for paying AGR dues either.
The total payout by all telecom companies combined could be as high as Rs 1.47 lakh crore after the dues for spectrum usage charges (SUC) linked to AGR is also taken into account. According to industry sources, while Vodafone Idea may have to shell out as much as Rs 53,000 crore, Bharti Airtel will have to pay nearly Rs 35,590 crore. Tata Teleservices, which sold its business to Bharti Airtel, will have to pay as much as Rs 14,000 crore in AGR dues, sources said.
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