The telecom department has asked telecom operators to clear their outstanding adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues before midnight on Friday. Department of Telecommunications has started issuing circle or zone-wise demand notices to telecom firms, asking them to clear pending licence fees and spectrum usage charges before 11:59 pm on February 14, Friday.
"You are directed to make immediate payment of due License Fees and Spectrum Usage Charges along with interest, penalty and interest on penalty (if applicable) for Rajasthan Telecom Circle in compliance with Hon'ble Supreme Court of India Judgment dated 24.10.2019 and 25.10.2019 in Civil Appeal No. 6328-6399 of 2015 and Others," stated an order by Controller of Communication Accounts, Jaipur to all telecom operators in Rajasthan circle.
"If the dues are not paid immediately, necessary action will be taken in terms of the provisions of License Agreement without any further notice," the order further said.
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) jumped into action after the Supreme Court pulled it up for issuing a 'no-coercive action' order against telecom companies. In a January 23 order, the telecom department had asked its circle officers not to initiate action against the telecom companies over non-payment of the AGR dues before the deadline. The apex court ordered the telecom department to withdraw its 'no-coercive action' directive by Friday. DoT did the same immediately.
In a strong reaction to non-compliance of its order, a bench of Justice Arun Mishra, Justice S Abdul Nazeer and Justice M R Shah bemoaned the order passed by DoT's desk officer, staying the effect of its verdict in AGR matter. The bench also noted that there's "no stay" on the coercive action against the telcos failing to comply with the SC deadline for clearing AGR dues.
The Supreme Court asked the top brass of telcos and other firms to explain why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against them for non-compliance of its order. It also asked the telecom operators to pay "sizeable" amount to show their bona fides by Friday only. The next hearing in the case will be held on March 17. The telecom companies have been directed to clear all pending AGR dues before the next hearing, or CMDs or MDs of these respective companies will have to be present in the Supreme Court.
Airtel has informed the DoT that it will deposit Rs 10,000 crore by February 20, 2020, and the balance before the next date of hearing, that is March 17, 2020.
As per the DoT, Airtel owes Rs 21,682.13 crore as a licence fee to the government and dues from Vodafone totals Rs 19,823.71 crore, while Reliance Communications owes Rs 16,456.47 crore. BSNL owes Rs 2,098.72 crore and MTNL Rs 2,537.48 crore. In all, 15 entities - telecom and otherwise - owe the government Rs 1.47 lakh crore. This includes Rs 92,642 crore in unpaid licence fee and another Rs 55,054 crore in outstanding spectrum usage charges. It is not clear yet just how much of that has been sought by the government by midnight tonight.