Hearing on AGR case, 'a matter of prestige' for SC, on June 11

The Supreme Court on Thursday will hold a hearing for the adjusted gross revenue (AGR) case.

A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra and comprising Justices S. Abdul Nazeer and M.R. Shah will hear the contention of various telecom firms - Vodafone Idea, Tata Teleservice, and Bharti Airtel.

In the previous hearing on March 18, the apex court slammed the Centre and telecom companies for not complying with its order on the payment of dues and penalties, saying: "Actions of telecom companies tantamount to seeking to bypass our judgement. All dues as per our judgement will have to be paid, including interest and penalty."

In its order, the three-judge bench, led by Justice Mishra, and comprising Justices Abdul Nazeer and Shah, held that no self-assessment can be done on AGR dues and no further objection on its verdict would be entertained.

While hearing Centre's plea granting a 20 year window for payment of dues by telecom firms, the court asked that where did the concept of self-assessment come in.

"Who permitted self-assessment without permission of this court? This is sheer contempt of court.

"If reassessment is permitted - it is fraud on this court," insisted Justice Mishra, emphasising this is a question of the prestige of the apex court.

The Centre had cited adverse impact on the economy, telecom sector and banking sectors. The telecom companies' total AGR dues are a staggering Rs 1.47 lakh crore.

"Do companies feel they are more powerful on earth?" asked Justice Mishra. He did not mince any words against the media and said the newspapers are trying to influence courts. "All the companies are trying to influence us through the media," he added.

The top court also noted that the government, in the AGR case, fought tooth and nail, and suggested penalties during its arguments. "Now it wants to do away with the interest," he queried Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Department of Telecommunications.

The bench - comprising Justices Mishra, Nazeer and Shah -- had upheld the DoT definition of AGR in the court ruling on October 24, 2019.

The top court observed that the DoT demand has been confirmed by this court, how can there be self-assessment. "This is impermissible," it said.

The court noted that some telecom players have suggested they need 8-10 months' time to corroborate numbers of self-assessment, but "this cannot be allowed." Instead, the top court insisted that dues have been finalised by the court.

"Won't tolerate this. Companies want to hoodwink us. If required, we will summon the MDs of all the telecom companies and send them to jail from here only. These companies are the usurpers of public money and don't even want to pay a fraction of revenue earned," said Justice Mishra.

On March 16, Mehta, appearing for the DoT, had sought staggered payment over 20 years of AGR dues by telecom companies. Bharti Airtel had already paid Rs 13,000 crore as AGR dues so far, and Vodafone Idea has paid Rs 3,500 crore.

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