It was not a good Friday for Indian telecom companies. Not only the Supreme Court ended all hopes of relief over its AGR verdict, but they were also ordered to clear pending dues immediately. Failure to comply would come with consequences, the apex court told the telcos. This was in stark contrast to what the companies were actually seeking - a lenient deadline for paying the hefty AGR dues.
In October last year, the apex court had ordered operators to pay Rs 1.47 lakh crore in statutory dues by January 23. A review petition against the order was rejected on January 16. The Supreme Court bench, comprising Justice Arun Mishra, S Abdul Nazeer and MR Shah, sat to hear fresh pleas by telecom firms on Friday. Telcos intended to negotiate a fresh payment schedule with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for paying the AGR dues.
Things happened very differently than intended. The Supreme Court bench noted that "the companies have violated the order passed by this Court in pith and substance". The bench said that the telcos have shown "scant respect to the directions issued by this court".
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) also faced the ire of the apex court, one of its desk officers in particular. Without naming the officer, the court expressed its displeasure over the 'no coercive action' order approved by him that protected telcos if they failed to pay their AGR dues within the stipulated deadline.
"A Desk Officer of the Department of Telecommunications has the temerity to pass the order to the effect of issuing a direction to the Accountant General, another Constitutional Authority, "not to insist for any payment pursuant to the order passed by this Court and not to take any coercive steps till further orders." This is nothing but a device to scuttle order of this Court," the bench observed.
In its order on Friday, the Supreme Court drew contempt proceedings against the DoT desk officer for passing the 'no coercive action' order. The directors of telecom companies have been asked to explain why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against them "for violating the order passed by this court by not depositing the amount", on the next date of hearing, that is March 17.
"Let the concerned officer, sitting over the order passed by this Court, also file reply," the Supreme Court bench further added.
If the pending AGR dues are not cleared by March 17, all of them will have to appear the Supreme Court in person, the order said.