Vodafone-Idea
Vodafone-Idea

New Delhi: The Supreme Court dismissed a petition filed by Vodafone Idea against the levy of one-time spectrum charges related to the piled up adjusted gross revenue (AGR) arrears of previous years not paid to the Department of Telecommunication (DoT).

"Don't pay anything....not this, not AGR. You will still not be touched," an angry Justice Mishra said dismissing the petition as perhaps he were aware of the government readying a package to negate the Apex Court's October order to the telecom companies to cough up the AGR arrears of Rs 1.47 lakh crore.

The original case is listed on Tuesday when a junior official has been summoned to explain how he issued an order to DoT not to recover the arrears as directed by the Court.

In a big relief for telecom operators, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) moved SC seeking its approval for a 20-year window for payment of around Rs 1.47 lakh crore Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) dues.

"All licencees impacted by the judgement (October 2019) of the court be allowed to pay the unpaid or remaining to be paid amount of past DoT assessed dues in annual installments over 20 years, duly protecting the net present value of the said dues using a discount rate of 8% (based on One Year Marginal Cost of Lending Rate of SBI which is currently 7.75%)", said DoT.

The DoT has said that the interest on the principal and penalty not be charged beyond judgment date, while dues payable to the government be protected by levy of 8% interest on staggered payments.

"The applicant is conscious of the fact that any immediate adverse impact on the functioning of the telecom service providers would not only have an adverse impact on the overall economy of the nation but would also seriously harm the interest of the consumers," it said in the application.

The DoT contended in the application that it has analysed the issue in great detail and has given serious consideration to the market economy of this sector.

Detailing on the adverse impact of the AGR judgement in absence of any support to the telecom firms, the DoT said it will impact on telecom services for a large proportion of customers.

"Mobile Number Portability (MNP) process has capacity limitations; this may lead to delays in porting numbers from non-operational to operational TSP (telecom service provider), and consequent disruption of services for customers.

TSPs porting in customers from TSPs not able to provide services will also need additional access spectrum to maintain Quality of Service. Spectrum is acquired through auction," said the DoT seeking relaxation in the repayment of the AGR dues.

It also sought the apex court's nod for a formula arrived at for recovery of dues from telecom companies after detailed deliberation by the government and the cabinet.

The department said the closure of one or more TSPs and gap being filled in by other remaining TSPs will not be seamless, and the collapse of the TSPs would also have a cascading negative impact on the other sectors of the economy.

"FDI sentiment will be adversely affected... closure of one or more TSPs also adversely impact the digital connectivity in the country... This will have adverse impact in rural areas, particularly Aspirational Districts and the spread of digitisation in the backward regions of India," the DoT said.

Vodafone Idea has said that it has cleared the principal amount towards AGR dues as it paid Rs 3,354 crore to the DoT on Monday.

In a regulatory filing, the telecom operator had earlier paid a sum of Rs 2,500 crore on February 17, 2020 and a further sum of Rs 1,000 crore on February 20 towards the AGR liability.

"The company has today paid a further amount of Rs 3,354 crore to the DoT, being the balance part of the principal amount towards AGR liability. Thus the company has paid the full principal amount of Rs 6,854 crore towards the AGR dues," it said.

According to Vodafone Idea's own assessment, its AGR dues stand at Rs 21,533 crore and the principal amount out of the total dues is Rs 6,854 crore. However, according to the DoT's estimate, the company's overall dues stand at Rs 53,000 crore.

The other major player Bharti Airtel has already said that it has paid its full AGR dues of about Rs 13,000 crore. After meeting Telecom Secretary Anshu Prakash here on March 11, Bharti Airtel Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal said that as per the government's direction, the company has paid the full amount.

He said that the full AGR dues is about Rs 13,000 crore, and Rs 5,000 crore is extra, adding that the company has also submitted its self-assessment document.

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