Sunil Mittal meets Prasad, tells Airtel will clear AGR dues before March 17

Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal arrives to meet Union Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in New Delhi. PTI
Bharti Enterprises Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal on Thursday assured the government that Airtel would comply with the Supreme Court order and pay up its adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues before March 17. Mittal met with Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad during the day to discuss the issues concerning dues.  

Mittal said Airtel was committed to “complying with the Supreme Court order on AGR dues” and asserted that the company would make balance payment "expeditiously".  "AGR is an unprecedented crisis for the industry which is being dealt with by the government," he said. Mittal further said the industry was heavily taxed and suggested a cut in taxes and levies for the sector.

Meanwhile, the Centre said telcos had already paid about Rs 16,000 crore in AGR dues and some had assured further payments in a week’s time, adding that they would strike a balance among compliance with the apex court’s AGR order, the telecom sector's health, and customer interests.   

Earlier in the day, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) had said it would issue fresh notices to Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel and Tata Teleservices this week for not paying their AGR dues entirely. While Bharti Airtel had paid Rs 10,000 crore on Monday, Vodafone Idea paid Rs 2,500 crore on Monday and another Rs 1,000 crore on Thursday. In all, Vodafone Idea owes Rs 53,000 crore to the telecom department in AGR dues.

Mittal and Vodafone Idea Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla had met with the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday. Vodafone Idea had earlier gone public saying it might not remain as a going concern unless the government gave it some relief on AGR dues, implying it might either shut shop or go for bankruptcy proceedings. 

Following his meeting with the finance minister, Mittal told reporters that the AGR issue was not discussed. He said the telecom sector was under stress for the last three-and-a-half years and that the government should focus on its sustainability. “The only thing the government needs to do is to focus on how to ensure the sustainability of the sector,” Mittal had said.

The finance minister had earlier said that the government will wait for DoT’s stand before commenting on the ongoing issue. 

The Supreme Court's original ruling in October led the DoT to seek hefty unpaid dues on license fees and spectrum usage charges from telcos. The DoT demand relates to a 14-year-old dispute regarding the definition of AGR, which the Supreme Court agreed should include all kinds of income generated by the telcos.

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