Bharti Airtel pays up Rs 18,000 crore as AGR dues to telecom dept

Sunil Mittal led-Bharti Airtel said it had settled all its dues
Sunil Mittal-led Bharti Airtel on Saturday made a surprise announcement that may alter the ongoing narrative related to adjusted gross revenue (AGR) and the hefty bill of Rs 1.47 trillion slapped on the telecom industry. 

In a regulatory filing with the stock exchanges, Bharti Airtel said it had paid its full and final AGR-linked dues of Rs 18,000 crore to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) after its self-assessment exercise. The government calculation of Airtel’s AGR-linked dues, estimated at Rs 35,500 crore, is almost double of what the telco has handed over.  

The company explained that it had carried out self-assessment from FY 2006-07 onwards up to December 31, 2019, and interest thereon up to February 29, 2020, in line with the AGR judgment.

This announcement came a day after a meeting of the Digital Communications Commission (DCC), the apex decision-making body for the telecom sector, remained inconclusive on providing relief to the financially stressed industry.

Bharti Airtel had initially paid Rs 10,000 crore to the DoT on February 17 in compliance with the Supreme Court judgment. The company on Saturday paid an additional amount of Rs 3,004 crore towards the full and final amounts due. “In addition to the aforesaid amounts paid basis our self-assessment, we have also deposited an additional amount of Rs 5,000 crore, as an ad-hoc payment (subject to subsequent refund/adjustment) to cover differences, if any, arising from the reconciliation exercise with the DoT,” Airtel said in the BSE filing.

Earlier, Tata Teleservices had paid Rs 2,197 crore as its AGR dues to the DoT, saying it was the company’s full and final payment. The government had estimated around Rs 14,000 crore as Tata Teleservice’s AGR dues.

While, these two companies have made their AGR payments after self-assessment, Vodafone Idea has made a payment of only Rs 3,500 crore so far against AGR dues estimated at more than Rs 50,000 crore. 

Vodafone Idea, in a recent letter to the DoT, had made a string of demands to help it continue as a going concern. With both joint venture partners of Voda Idea making it clear that they wouldn’t put good money after bad, the telco may be headed for bankruptcy without any government intervention.      

At the DCC meeting on Friday, no decision could be taken on providing relief to the telecom service providers due to discrepancy in the data for calculation of AGR, an official said.

The Supreme Court had on October 24, 2019, upheld the DoT definition of AGR, asking the telecom industry to pay up pending licence fee and spectrum charge dues along with penalties and interest within three months. 

Subsequently, the court had dismissed a review petition by the telcos. When Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea filed a modification plea for extending the duration of payments, the court asked them to clear their dues before the next date of hearing, scheduled for March 17.

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