Huge setback for telcos as Supreme Court dismisses review plea on government dues

The Supreme Court had on October 24, 2019 upheld the Department of Telecom's (DoT) interpretation of AGR on the recovery of past dues.


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Ahamad Fuwad

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DNA webdesk

Updated: Jan 16, 2020, 07:10 PM IST

In a major setback to telecom companies, including Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, the Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed their review pleas filed against the apex court judgment on Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR).

The apex court had on October 24, 2019 upheld the Department of Telecom's (DoT) interpretation of AGR on the recovery of past dues amounting to Rs 1.47 lakh crore from telecom service providers.

The amount was arrived at on the basis of the adjusted gross revenue of about Rs 92,000 crore. 

The limited review plea by Vodafone and Idea was heard by the same three-judge bench led by Justice Arun Mishra which had delivered the October order. The bench, also comprising Justices AA Nazeer and MR Shah, upheld its earlier order which had termed as "frivolous" the nature of objections raised by telcos.

In its October ruling, the Supreme Court had accepted the definition formulated by the DoT and ordered telecom companies to pay up statuary dues by January 23. 

As per the DoT's widened AGR definition, 15 telcos owe the government Rs 1.47 lakh crore in dues. Some of these telcos, however, are now defunct with Airtel and Vodafone Idea only two big players still in the market. While Airtel has dues of Rs 35,500 crore while Vodafone Idea has to pay Rs 53,000 crore.

In a reply to a question in Parliament in November last year, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said that telecom companies owe the government as much as Rs 1.47 lakh crore in past statutory dues.

Prasad had also told the Parliament on separate occasions that Rs 92,642 crore of the total amount is unpaid licence fee and Rs 55,054 crore is outstanding spectrum usage charges.

There is no proposal at present to waive interest and penalties on such dues, the minister had said. 

According to PTI, the DoT's affidavit filed earlier in the top court had said that Airtel owed Rs 21,682.13 crore as licence fee to the government and dues from Vodafone totalled Rs 19,823.71 crore. While Reliance Communications owed Rs 16,456.47 crore, state-owned BSNL and MTNL owed Rs 2,098.72 crore and Rs 2,537.48 crore, respectively.