Telcos Have Already Paid About Rs 16,000 Cr in AGR Dues: Sources

The government source added that telcos will pay the additional pending dues in the next 7 to 8 days.

4 min read
Airtel and Vodafone. Image for representation.

Indian government has received about Rs 16,000 crore from telecom companies for AGR dues, as per official quoted in a PTI report on Thursday. The official adds that some telcos have assured more payments will be made in 7-8 days.

This development has come about few hours after Vodafone Idea on Thursday, 20 February, paid Rs 1,000 crore more to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) towards its statutory dues, a senior official had said.

The company had earlier paid Rs 2,500 crore to the government towards adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues on Monday. In all, it owes Rs 53,000 crore to the telecom department. With the latest payment, it now owes Rs 49,500 crore more to the telecom department.

Interestingly, the payment was done by Vodafone Idea even after the Supreme Court on Monday had rejected its proposal to pay Rs 2,500 crore on the same day and Rs 1,000 crore by Friday against Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) dues, while also refusing its plea that no coercive action be taken against it.

A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra declined to accept the proposal of payment in parts, given by senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Vodafone, after he mentioned the matter.

Rohatgi had said they were willing to pay Rs 2,500 crore on Monday and another Rs 1,000 crore by Friday, but requested no coercive action be taken against the company. And as suggested, the telco has paid both the set of payments this week.

He had urged the court that the bank guarantee deposited with the government by Vodafone should also not be encashed.

Airtel Pays Rs 10,000 Crore AGR Dues

With the apex court's rap, the government came down heavily on telcos following which Bharti Airtel on Monday said it has paid Rs 10,000 crore to the telecom department towards statutory dues.

The company said it will make the payment of balance amount after a self-assessment exercise.

"The...amount of Rs 10,000 crore has been paid on behalf of Bharti Airtel, Bharti Hexacom, and Telenor," the Sunil Mittal-led company said in a statement.

The top court had on Friday warned of contempt proceedings against top executives of Bharti Airtel, Vodafone-Idea and other telecom firms for failing to comply with its directive to pay an estimated Rs 1.47 lakh crore in past dues, and asked whether there was no law left in the country.

In the Friday order which will have far-reaching implications for the telecom sector, the apex court expressed displeasure at the “temerity” of a desk officer in the Department of Telecom for “scuttling” its order by issuing a written directive to not take any coercive action against firms for not depositing dues by the 23 January 2020 deadline.

‘Companies Violated SC Order in Pith and Substance’

The bench, also comprising Justices S Abdul Nazeer and MR Shah, on Friday said the companies have violated its order "in pith and substance" and asked them to clear dues before the next date of hearing on 17 March.

Following the apex court rap, the Department of Telecom withdrew its 23 January 2020 order that had called for no coercive action against defaulting firms and started issuing notices to telcos asking them to deposit dues before midnight of Friday.

Hearing the pleas filed by Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel, Tata Teleservices and others seeking more time for payment of dues, the bench expressed serious displeasure and said, "How can a desk officer do this to the Supreme Court's order? Is this the law of the country? Is this the way you treat the courts?"

“We don’t know who is creating this nonsense. Who is generating all this? Is there no law left in the country? I am literally anguished. I feel I should not work in this court and in this system. I am very anguished. I am saying this with a full sense of responsibility.”
Justice Arun Mishra
The top court made it clear that in case its order is not complied with, the desk officer of the DoT and top executives of these companies “shall remain personally present” before it on 17 March.

The court had on 24 October last year ordered that non-telecom revenues should be included in the AGR for calculating statutory dues such as license fee and spectrum charges.

Paying Huge Sums Could ‘Erode Viability of Sector’: Telcos

Airtel and Vodafone Idea are the biggest defaulters in this case. They have repeatedly said that paying out huge sums will have a drastic impact on the country’s telecom sector.

“The industry continues to face severe financial stress and the outcome could further erode the viability of the sector as a whole," Airtel said in a statement last month.

The telecom industry group Cellular Operator Association of India (COAI) believes the payment will impact PM Modi’s vision of digital India. “This added financial pressure on the sector will also adversely impact Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of Digital India,” COAI director general Rajan S Mathews said.

And more importantly, Vodafone Idea had said that it might have to shut shop if it’s ordered to pay the dues. “It does not make sense to put good money after bad. That would be end of story for us. We will shut shop," Birla had said in December in a response to whether Vodafone Idea will put in more money.

(With inputs from PTI and IANS)

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