Bharti Airtel seeks 20 years to pay remaining AGR dues, SC to hear in July

Bharti Airtel and Bharti Hexacon said in a joint affidavit they had paid Rs 18,004 crore to the telecommunications department
Bharti Airtel on Thursday asked the Supreme Court that it be given 20 years to make its remaining adjusted gross revenue (AGR) payments, saying it is a well-established telecom company and not a "fly-by-night operator".

Bharti Airtel and Bharti Hexacon said in a joint affidavit they had paid Rs 18,004 crore to the telecommunications department—an amount that is 62 per cent of the total received by the department from all operators in compliance with the court's judgement. 

The two companies said that no additional security should be charged from them during the proposed 20-year period. In a letter to the DOT on March 6, 2020 the Bharti companies have explained how these payments discharges the liabilities of the two firms.

The department has Rs 10,800 crore as bank guarantees with it from the two companies. "The Bharti companies are not fly-by-night operators and have operations in 16 countries having 423 million subscribers," the affidavit said.

The Supreme Court had on June 11 asked Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea to file a reply on the roadmap of payment, time to be allowed, and securities. The two companies said that they be given some time make the balance AGR payments and the government can cancel their telecom licenses if they fail to do so.

To which SC had said, “Nobody has seen the next 20 years, can't allow extension based on a "gentleman's promise". How can 20 years be said to be reasonable?”

Bharti Airtel said it has already paid Rs 18000 crore—70 per cent of the Rs 25,600 crore received by the telecom department from all companies. Vodafone Idea, which has liabilities worth Rs 53,000 crore, pleaded saying that it does not have enough money to pay and should be given some time, reassuring that its licensed can be cancelled if the company fails to pay.

The court asked the telecom companies if they are ready to furnish bank guarantees in case of cancellation of the license. The Supreme Court on October 24, 2019 upheld DOT's definition of AGR, ending the 14-year old legal battle between telecom operators and the government.

According to official estimates, 16 entities owe the government Rs 1.47 trillion in AGR liabilities -- Rs 92,642 crore in licence fee and another Rs 55,054 crore in outstanding spectrum usage charges.

Many of the 16 entities which were sent notices for payment of AGR dues have either shut their business, sold off to others or gone into bankruptcy. SC on February 14 had asked companies to deposit their past dues for spectrum and licences immediately. The modification plea was scheduled for a hearing on March 17.

The telecom department, in its petition before the court, sought relief via 20-year staggered payment for the telcos' dues linked to the AGR along with a waiver of interest and penalty. Vodafone Idea Ltd, on March 6, had pegged its total dues to the government at Rs 21,533 crore, while the Telecom Department estimated it at over Rs 53,000 crore. The company said it had paid Rs 3,354 crore to the DoT, as part payment of its AGR dues. Earlier, it had paid Rs 3,500 crore.

On a self-assessment pattern, Bharti Airtel paid Rs 13,004 crore to the government in two installments. It had also deposited an additional Rs 5,000 crore as an ad-hoc payment to cover any reconciliation differences. However, as per the DOT estimates the company has to pay Rs 35,500 crore.

Similarly, Tata Teleservices paid Rs 2,197 crore in AGR dues, followed by an additional Rs 2,000 crore to cover reconciliation differences, against the DoT estimate of the company’s liabilities at Rs 14,000 crore.
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