Beleaguered telecom operator Vodafone Idea on Friday approved plan to raise up to Rs 25,000 crore through a combination of equity and debt instruments to keep the company afloat.

The crucial decision came days after the Supreme Court directed telecom operators to pay 10 per cent of total adjusted gross revenue (AGR)-related dues this year, and rest of the payments in 10 instalments, starting next fiscal year.

The fund-raising will throw a lifeline to cash-strapped VIL, which has suffered massive losses, as it has been losing subscribers and average revenue per user (ARPU), and faces outstanding AGR dues of about Rs 50,000 crore.

In a filing on Friday, Vodafone Idea said its board has approved raising of funds through a combination of equity and debt instruments and that the total fund-raising will not exceed Rs 25,000 crore.

The company will consider fund-raising through GDR, ADR, FCCB, debentures or warrants.

The fund-raising plans are subject to shareholders' nod and other statutory approvals.

Raising of funds will be through "issue of equity shares or securities convertible into equity shares, Global Depository Receipts, American Depository Receipts, foreign currency convertible bonds, convertible debentures, warrants...or a combination thereof up to an aggregate amount of Rs 15,000 crore by way a public issue, preferential allotment, private placement, qualified institutions placement...". This could be done in one or more tranches.

The filing further mentioned, "issuance of unsecured and / or secured, non-convertible debentures up to an aggregate amount of Rs 15,000 crore, by way of public offering or private placement basis or otherwise, in one or more tranches".

The proposals will be taken up at the company's annual general meeting scheduled on September 30, 2020.

It may be recalled that recent reports had suggested that Verizon and Amazon may invest over USD 4 billion into the company, but Vodafone Idea had on Thursday clarified that while it constantly evaluates various opportunities as part of corporate strategy, there is no such proposal currently before the Board at yet.

Fund infusion is critical for VIL, the third largest operator in the fiercely-competitive Indian telecom market, where Jio's entry in 2016 with free calls and cheap data pushed some rivals to exit, acquire, or merge to stay afloat.

Jio Platforms -- the unit that houses India's youngest but largest telecom firm Jio and apps -- recently raised Rs 1,52,056 crore from thirteen investors, including Facebook, Google, General Atlantic, Intel Capital and Qualcomm Ventures.

Notably, Vodafone Idea's overall AGR dues stood at over Rs 58,000 crore, of which the company has paid Rs 7,854 crore to the Department of Telecom so far.

The statutory dues arose after the Supreme Court, in October last year, upheld the government's position on including revenue from non-core businesses in calculating the annual AGR of telecom companies, a share of which is paid as licence and spectrum fee to the exchequer.

VIL has been under severe financial pressure, and analysts time and again have cautioned that the company's longer-term viability remains under cloud.

In December, Vodafone Idea Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla had said VIL may have to shut if there is no relief on the statutory dues.

The company had reported a staggering Rs 73,878 crore of net loss in fiscal ended March 2020 - the highest ever by any Indian firm - after it provisioned for Supreme Court mandated statutory dues.

It reported a net loss of Rs 25,460 crore for the June quarter after making additional provisions to pay past statutory dues and had said its ability to continue as going concern hinges on the Supreme Court allowing more time to pay dues.

The apex court has rejected the demand for a 20 year time for telcos to clear a combined Rs 1.6 lakh crore in past dues, but allowed the liability to be cleared in 10 years.

Following the SC verdict earlier this month, some analysts had been of the view that Vodafone Idea may struggle to pay its dues in the 10 years that the Supreme Court granted to telecom companies, although Bharti Airtel may be able to meet the payment schedule.

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Free Press Journal