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Non-payment of AGR dues: SC asks Airtel, Vodafone Idea why contempt action shouldn't be taken against them

BusinessToday.In     February 14, 2020

The Supreme Court on Friday asked the telecom companies, including Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, as to why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against them for not paying AGR (Adjusted Gross Revenue) dues and not complying with the SC's earlier October 23, 2019, order.

Blasting the DoT and the telcos, the SC bench said "there is no respect for the court", reported The Economic Times. Notably, the DoT in its January 23 order had asked its circle officers not to initiate action against the telecom companies for non-payment of the AGR dues before the deadline.

Hearing a batch of petitions filed in the case, Justice Arun Mishra said he was "literally shocked" and that "this (pleas) is nothing but a device to oblige the companies", reported Bar & Bench. Pulling up the DoT Desk Officer, who had earlier written to the Attorney General for not insisting on the payment, the SC asked him why it should also not take action against him.

The SC bench reportedly also asked the telcos to pay "sizeable" amount to show their bona fides by Friday. The next hearing in the case will be held on March 17. Till that time, the telecom companies are required to clear all pending AGR dues or CMDs or MDs of these respective companies will have to be present in the Supreme Court.

The apex court was hearing fresh pleas of the telecom companies, including Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Tata Tele-services, seeking a new schedule regarding the payment of the statutory dues to the tune of Rs 1.47 lakh crore to the DoT.

Apart from Mishra, the SC bench comprised Justices S Abdul Nazeer and MR Shah. The pleas filed by the telcos had sought more time for the payment of the AGR dues.

On January 16, a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra dismissed the petitions of the telecom firms seeking review of its earlier order asking them to pay Rs 1.47 lakh crore in AGR dues by January 23, saying it did not find any "justifiable reason" to entertain them.

The apex court on October 24 last year ruled the statutory dues need to be calculated by including non-telecom revenues in AGR of telcos. It had upheld the AGR definition formulated by the DoT and termed as "frivolous" the nature of objections raised by the telecom service providers.

As per the DoT, Airtel owes Rs 21,682.13 crore as 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.

Edited by Manoj Sharma with agency inputs

Also read: Reliance Jio pays Rs 195 crore AGR dues to DoT; Voda Idea, Airtel seek more time

Also read: AGR fallout: Does Reliance Jio want Oil India, PowerGrid and GAIL to go bankrupt?

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