Telcos need to wait more for relief on AGR as govt scrambles over data

Inadequate data seems to be a hurdle for the Union government while deciding on a relief package for the telecom industry facing a Rs 1.47-trillion licence fee and spectrum charge demand linked to adjusted gross revenue (AGR).    

A meeting of the Digital Communications Commission (DCC), which was expected to come out with relief measures for the financially-stressed sector, remained inconclusive on Friday over data issues, a senior official in the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) said. DCC, the highest decision-making body, is grappling with    discrepancy in data for calculation of AGR, it’s learnt. DCC, headed by the DOT secretary, includes secretaries across ministries of finance, commerce, and Electronics and Information Technology, as well as CEO of NITI Aayog.

Members of the DCC refused to comment on the discussions held during the two-hour meet. More details are required for reconciliation of AGR data, sources said. The panel is likely to meet again in the coming days.

However, DoT officials maintained the meeting did not focus on AGR issues but on project implementation for PPP (public-private-partnership) on Bharat Net project.

In fact, just days ahead of this meeting, Vodafone Idea had told the government that it would not be able to pay the Supreme Court-mandated dues, estimated at more than Rs 50,000 crore, unless state support was extended in terms of relaxed payment tenure along with lower licence fee and a tariff floor that would raise the minimum charges by eight times.

Vodafone Idea, in a letter to the DoT, had even sought adjustment of Goods and Services Tax (GST) refund to the tune of Rs 8,000 crore against its AGR dues.

Cellular Oper­ators’ Asso­ciation of India, a body representing the telecom industry, had on Thursday urged the Union government to step in so that the telecom sector could be brought back on track.

COAI sought an immediate cut in the licence fee levy to 3 per cent from 8 per cent, as well as a reduction in the spectrum usage charges. Citing India’s low average revenue per user (ARPU)  compared to markets like China, Brazil and Russia, COAI had pressed for a floor price “to ensure the sector was sustainable’’.

The Supreme Court, in October last year, upheld the government’s position on including revenue from non-core businesses in calculating AGR of telecom companies, a share of which is paid as licence and spectrum fee to the exchequer. The top court, earlier this month, rejected a plea by Airtel and Vodafone Idea seeking an extension in the payment schedule.

The court asked companies to deposit their AGR dues immediately.

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