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Panic, confusion and payment promises from telcos after Supreme Court's AGR blow?

AGR case: A circle officer asked telcos to pay dues by midnight February 14-15 which created panic among telcos, after one of the SC judges asked to deposit 'sizeable' amounts by the end of the day

twitter-logo Manu Kaushik        Last Updated: February 15, 2020  | 14:42 IST
Panic, confusion and payment promises from telcos after Supreme Court's AGR blow?
AGR case: Though the DoT deadline has already passed, telcos such as Airtel and Tata Teleservices have promised to pay their AGR dues in days to come, there's still no clarity on Vodafone Idea's payment schedule

The Supreme Court's order on the controversial AGR (adjusted gross revenues) has swung the department of telecom (DoT) into action. The three-judge court rapped the desk officer at the DoT for scuttling SC's original AGR order which asked the telecom operators to pay up their dues of Rs 1.47 lakh crore by January 23. DoT desk officer had asked circle head to not take any coercive action against telcos in contravention of the SC judgement.

But within minutes of SC's rap on February 14, DoT reportedly withdrew its previous letter that directed its officers at 22 telecom circles to not take coercive action against the telcos for non-payment. Some DoT officials at the circle level have already shot off letters to the telcos asking them to pay dues while the remaining circle officers are believed to be doing so over the course of two days.

In one particular circle, reportedly UP (West), the circle officer had asked telcos to pay their dues by the end of February 14 which created panic among telcos. Added to this panic was the reported statement made by one of the SC judges to deposit "sizeable" amounts by the end of the day (that is February 14) to avoid contempt of court action. The SC order, signed by the three-judge bench, however, did not specify a midnight deadline for payment. Instead it asked for payments to be made by next date of hearing on March 17 or demanded the presence of managing directors/directors on the day.

Though the DoT deadline has already passed, telcos such as Airtel and Tata Teleservices have promised to pay their AGR dues in days to come, there's still no clarity on Vodafone Idea's payment schedule. Sources say Vodafone Idea is holding a meeting today to discuss the SC order and its next course of action.

Among the 15 operators hit by the October 24 ruling of the Supreme Court, Vodafone Idea has been impacted the most as its dues stand highest at Rs 53,038 crore, as per DoT estimates. In comparison, Airtel's dues stand at about Rs 35,600 crore. Airtel, on Friday, wrote a letter to a DoT member promising it will deposit Rs 10,000 crore by February 20, and and the remaining amount will be paid before the next hearing date - that is March 17. Airtel said that its payments pertain to group companies such as Bharti Airtel, Bharti Hexacom and Telenor India.

"We are in the process of completing the self-assessment exercise. You will appreciate that this is a complicated process, covering 22 circles, multiple licenses and a substantial period of time and hence, is time-consuming," said the Airtel letter.

It's important to note that the DoT had asked Airtel for self-assessment more than three months ago (November 13, 2019) yet Airtel couldn't complete it. It's only after the court has come down heavily on the telco when it realised that there are no more avenues for it to find relief.

Tata Teleservices too has written a letter to DoT on February 14 which says that Tata Teleservices Ltd and Tata Teleservices (Maharashtra) Ltd undertake to pay the respective due amount by March 17. As per DoT's estimates, Tata Tele is liable to pay around Rs 13,800 crore to DoT.

Vodafone Idea is yet to inform the DoT or stock exchanges on its AGR payment schedule. An email sent to Vodafone Idea seeking information on their likely payment schedule and the future course of action - after the rejection of review petition and petition seeking easier payment terms with DoT remained unanswered at the time of writing the story. The story will be updated in due course.

Also read: AGR case: What the telcos wanted vs what they got

Also read: DoT asks Vodafone Idea, Airtel to clear AGR dues by midnight

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