The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is likely to push for the entire payment of adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues from telcos before the March 17 hearing in the Supreme Court (SC), senior DoT officials said.
“It (entire payments) may not be as easy, but we will push for as much as possible before the court hears this case again,” one of the officials said.
The DoT, which is currently in the process of internally calculating the dues owed by all telcos, will also tally it with the self-assessment reports on AGR submitted by the companies and then call them for clarifications in case of discrepancies, the officials said.
As of Thursday, Bharti Airtel had paid Rs 10,000 crore of the over Rs 36,000 crore it owed to the DoT, while Vodafone Idea paid Rs 3,500 crore of the Rs 53,000-crore AGR dues it owed. Vodafone Idea paid another Rs 1,000 crore on Thursday, DoT sources confirmed. The Rs 3,500 crore paid by Vodafone Idea is half of its self-assessed AGR principal.
Meanwhile, Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal met Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad again on Thursday, where he sought “cut in taxes and levies for the sector”.
“This has been a demand for a long time and the regulator has been supporting it,” Mittal said while talking to the reporters.
Thursday’s meeting between Mittal and Prasad was the second between them amid the ongoing AGR issue, with an earlier meeting between them on Friday. Mittal, along with Vodafone Idea chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla, had met Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Talking to reporters after the meeting, Mittal denied having discussed AGR with the FM. He instead said the government should focus on “how to ensure sustainability of the sector”.
“There is nothing specific. In general terms, the telecom industry has been under stress for three-and-a-half years. This industry is very vital to the nation’s digital agenda and many other industries that ride on it, employment, government taxes. The only thing that the government needs to focus now is how to ensure the sustainability of the sector,” Mittal said on Wednesday, adding he would not speak anything about AGR dues as of now.
Mittal and Birla, over the past week, have been meeting officials from the DoT. On Wednesday, Mittal also met DoT Secretary Anshu Prakash, before meeting Sitharaman. Birla, meanwhile, met Prakash on Tuesday, accompanied by Vodafone Idea managing director and chief executive officer Ravinder Takkar.
Both Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea are under pressure to complete the remainder of their AGR payments before March 17. The deadline is the next date of hearing in the SC, which had on February 14 slammed the DoT as well as the companies for failing to make any payments before the stipulated deadline of January 23.
During the hearing on February 14, the SC had lamented that its orders had not been followed and that the way everyone was behaving suggested there was “no law left in the country”.
On October 24, 2019, the SC had upheld the DoT’s definition of AGR and said since the licencees had agreed to the migration packages, they were liable to pay the dues, the penalty on dues, and the interest on penalty due to delay in payments. The top court had then given the telcos three months to clear their AGR dues.
That three-month deadline ended on January 23, before which the telcos had unsuccessfully tried to persuade the DoT to give them more time to pay the dues. Having failed there, the telcos again approached the apex court seeking a review of the October 24 judgment, which was also turned down.
Two days before the stipulated deadline was to end, the telcos moved the top court again, seeking to “work out feasible terms mutually with DoT” to ensure that they remain a “going concern”.
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