The Supreme Court is not finished with the case of the past AGR (Adjusted Gross Revenue) dues of the telecom companies even after three days of hearing and the 3-judge Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra will assemble again on Thursday from 2 pm as it seeks to determine the staggered payments lest many fold up if forced to pay immediately from their current revenue as decreed by it in last October's verdict.
Senior advocate Harish Salve completed his two days of arguments on Wednesday, leaving the floor for others to argue on Thursday. He could have ended fast in the hearing that began only at 2.45 pm, after Justice Mishra finished work before other Bench he was heading with Justices B R Gavai and Krishna Murari as also yet another Bench with Justice Uday Umesh Lalit. The instant telcos' case is before the Bench of Justices Mishra, S Abdul Nazeer and M R Shah.
On the request of Justice Mishra, Salve also explained the larger question of natural resources as spectrum is also a natural resource. He said the principle is that the government cannot sell exclusive rights of the natural resources as the resources like rivers, beaches and air waves are all held by the government in trust. "Even the taxpayers' money is held by the government in trust. In Fact, the whole concept of government is trust."
Salve said spectrum is only leased out to the telcos who cannot sell it without the DoT's (Department of Telecommunication) nod. He said heart of the matter in this case is the Bench's judgment in the AGR case that deals with the contracts and these contracts have to be rigorously enforced. Justice Mishra intervened to point out that the Court's understanding remains that the government's interpretation of the scope of AGR shall prevail.
"It is nobody's case that the spectrum belongs to anyone other than the Union of India. The licence gives a right to use. It is a concessional right and very valuable. No other right can be claimed on spectrum beyond this," Salve argued.
He said: "Spectrum is not something one can claim possession over. Spectrum is just there. The government holds this is in trust but a telecom company does not become a trustee when it is given licence. As a natural resource, spectrum will always vest with the people."
Asked how then spectrum is shown by the companies as asset, Salve said the right conferred on a company to use the spectrum is its asset. Spectrum is recorded as an asset by virtue of being purchased in an auction, he explained, stressing that a wrong impression is created that the spectrum itself can be sold. He urged the court that any decision on the sale of spectrum at this stage may create legal problems in the current transactions and better leave it for the time when the transfer of rights takes place.