AGR case: SC turns down telecom companies' demand for re-assessment of dues

A Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, S Abdul Nazeer and M R Shah made it clear to the companies that no arguments related to the re-assessment of the AGR dues would be heard.
Striking down the telecom companies’ demand for re-assessment of dues linked to adjusted gross revenue (AGR), the Supreme Court on Monday reserved its order with respect to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) plea for a 20-year staggered payment timeline for the service providers.

A Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, S Abdul Nazeer and M R Shah made it clear to the companies that no arguments related to the re-assessment of the AGR dues would be heard. “We will not hear arguments for re-assessment (of AGR related dues) even for a second,” the Bench said. 

Pulling up the DoT for allowing room for re-assessment, the court observed, “who in the government has the temerity to do this? No one has the authority to overturn our orders.’’

The SC asked Bharti Airtel to not try and reopen the case as all the dues were included in the AGR judgement. There is no room available for adjustment of dues payable by Bharti Airtel, it said.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, on behalf of the government, said the DoT had not submitted anything to suggest re-calculation of the AGR dues.

According to the DoT calculations, Bharti Airtel owes Rs 43,780 crore of AGR dues, of which the company has paid Rs 18,004 crore, leaving a balance of Rs 25,976 crore. Vodafone Idea has so far paid Rs 7,854 crore of its Rs 50,399-crore dues. Tata Teleservices has paid about Rs 4,197 crore and the  balance is about Rs 12,601 crore.

Bharti Airtel counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi told the SC that the government had erroneously sought over Rs 43,000 crore of AGR dues and that the demand includes spectrum usage charges (SUC) dues as well. The SUC charges are not part of AGR dues.

Vodafone Idea counsel Mukul Rohatgi said the company was not seeking re-calculation of the demand and would rely on the demands made by the DoT.

Rohatgi, however, told the court that the Rs 1-trillion worth of equity brought in by the promoters — Vodafone Plc — had been eroded.

The company’s total revenue of over 10 years stood at Rs 6.27 trillion, of which Rs 4.95 trillion was expenditure.  

At the previous SC hearing, the Vodafone Idea counsel had said  the company would be forced to shut operations if the dues had to be paid upfront and that would have a bearing on its 11,000 employees.

On June 18, SC was informed by the Centre that DoT had decided to withdraw 96 per cent of the Rs 4-trillion demand for AGR-related dues raised against non-telecom PSUs after being admonished by the court.

The apex court had asked the private telecom companies including Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea to come out with a “reasonable payment plan”, make some payment to “show their bona fide” and file their books of accounts for the last 10 years.

The next hearing has been posted for August 10 on the issue of companies that have gone into liquidation and the court will examine the veracity of the actions of Reliance Communications, Aircel, Sistema Shyam and Videocon.

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