After SC rejects AGR plea, telcos brainstorm on paying up to 20% dues

Telecom companies are discussing a possible plan to make an upfront part payment, which could be up to 20 per cent of their dues linked to the adjusted gross revenue (AGR). The total AGR dues, including licence fee and spectrum user charge along with penalties and interest, are estimated at Rs 1.47 trillion for 15 telcos even as many of them have sold out or shut down their business.         

The Supreme Court, in its order on October 24 last year, had asked telcos to pay up the AGR dues within 90 days. On Thursday, the court rejected a review petition by telcos, in a massive blow to the telecom industry, facing severe financial stress. Sources in telecom firms have said it wouldn’t be possible to cough up the entire AGR dues in a week, and are looking at a staggered payment nod from the government. Vodafone Idea and Bharti are the worst hit having to pay Rs 53,038 crore and Rs 35,586 crore, respectively, towards AGR dues.            

Confirming the discussions among some of the telcos, Rajan Mathew, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), said they were deliberating on  making a part payment of the total dues to the government. The industry is looking at making a part payment of up to 20 per cent or so before the court deadline. Also, the companies are making a request to the Department of Telecom (DoT) that they would like to work with the government to make staggered payments of the remaining liability over a period of time. 

The COAI, in an earlier letter, had asked for a 10-year staggered payment scheme with a two-year moratorium from the government. 

COAI executives pointed out that as the  licence fee and SUC payment is a contract between the DoT and telcos, the government can allow the industry to pay in a staggered manner.  

According to Matthew, while telcos might write individually to the government, COAI too is planning to send a communication to the DoT seeking staggered payment of AGR dues. 

Telcos have sent their self-assessment calculation of the AGR dues to DoT, which is free to change the amount if it wishes after scrutinising the numbers. 

Sources said there seems to be a discrepancy in the industry estimate of the AGR dues with that of the government. For instance, Vodafone Idea has estimated its dues at Rs 44,000 crore, DoT claims it’s more than Rs 53,000 crore. 

According to analysts, the total amount of AGR dues recoverable by the government from Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea, Reliance Jio, Tatas and state-owned BSNL/MTNL is to the tune of Rs 99,000 crore going by the industry calculations and Rs 1.1 trilion by DoT. 

As for the other telecom players such as Telenor, Etisalat and Rcom (which is undergoing insolvency proceedings), it will be difficult for the government to recover AGR dues. If six telcos pay up 10 per cent of the cash upfront, the government would get an additional Rs 9,900 crore to Rs 11,000 crore in the current financial year, and double of it if the industry pays 20 per cent. The government, staring at a significant revenue shortfall, would possibly need more.   

ALSO READ: AGR verdict: Ball now in govt's court to salvage telcos, say banks 

Options before telcos
  • Ask govt for a staggered payment plan to reduce annual burden  
  • Push for a reduction in licence fee and spectrum user charges to neutralise the impact of AGR dues
  • File a curative petition
  • Wait for SC decision in the case of non-telecom players
  • Not pay, go for bankruptcy proceedings

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