The Supreme Court will hear a plea by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for staggered payment of Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) dues by telecom companies. If the Supreme Court agrees to this, it'll be a big relief for AGR-hit Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel.
A bench of Justices Arun Mishra and MR Shah on Tuesday directed that the Centre's application be listed before the same bench which had given the October 24, 2019 verdict for payment of AGR dues, amounting to Rs 1.47 lakh crore, owed by telecom companies.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, mentioned the application for urgent listing, saying that if a telecom company went bankrupt due to the dues, it would have a major impact on the sector. The bench said it did not know when the original bench, which gave the verdict, will assemble due to the precautionary measures adopted by the top court in wake of COVID-19 pandemic.
It also allowed the Centre to file an affidavit in reply to the contempt notice issued by the apex court on February 14 for non-compliance of its order to payment of the AGR dues to the Department of Telecom (DoT).
With both the DoT and telcos looking to find a middle ground, only the Supreme Court has the final say. Vodafone Idea has already threatened to shut shop in India if the government continues to demand full payout of the AGR dues, which could affect its 13,000 direct employees working in the country. Despite the DoT pegging dues of Airtel and Vodafone Idea at Rs 35,586 crore and Rs 53,000 crore, telcos claim the actual amount is quite lower than that.
Bharti Airtel has said it has paid the complete AGR dues of Rs 13,000 crore in two instalments as per its self-assessment. It also deposited an additional Rs 5,000 crore "as an ad-hoc payment (subject to subsequent refund/adjustment) to cover differences, if any, arising from the reconciliation exercise with the DoT". The total payout by Bharti Airtel, however, is half of Rs 35,586.01 crore liability estimated by the DoT.
Like Airtel, Vodafone Idea also pegged its total dues at Rs 21,533 crore -- lesser than what the government estimated. Vodafone Idea has so far paid Rs 3,500 crore out of the "self-assessed" liability of Rs 21,533 crore.