AGR issue: SC slams DoT for demanding ₹4-lakh cr from PSUs

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on June 11, 2020 Published on June 11, 2020

Telcos told to file affidavits on how to pay the dues

The Supreme Court on Thursday again came down heavily on the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for demanding adjusted gross revenue (AGR) of ₹4 lakh- crore from PSUs, terming it “totally impermissible” and told DoT to consider withdrawing it.

PSUs — Power Grid Corporation of India, GAIL India, Gujarat Narmada Valley Fertilizers & Chemicals and Oil India, — had contested the DoTs demand, saying telecom wasn’t their core business and revenue from licences such as ISP formed a meagre part of their revenue.

The bench also asked private telecom operators (Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Tata Group) to file affidavits giving details on the repayment of AGR dues. The next hearing will be held on June 18.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for DoT, told the Bench that the Department would file an affidavit explaining as to why the AGR demands were raised against the PSUs.

On the government request for allowing telcos up to 20 years to pay the remaining ₹93,520 crore in AGR dues, it sought to know the rationale for such a long time period and wanted to know what guarantees the company and their directors can provide.

A bench of Justices Arun Mishra, S Abdul Nazeer and MR Shah asked questions on the demand raised by the government from the PSUs and said that its verdict in the case was misinterpreted as the issue of their dues based on AGR was not dealt with by the apex court.

On May 18, the Supreme Court had lashed out at Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and other operators for self-assessing their outstanding telecom dues, saying they need to pay past dues with interest and penalty, totalling around ₹1.6-lakh crore.

That time too, the Supreme Court had come down heavily on the DoT for allowing companies to re-assess what they owed to the government, and said its order — passed on October 24 — on revenues for calculating dues was final.

Meanwhile, the Bench also asked the telecom companies to file affidavits on how will they pay the dues. It also asked the operators if they have contributed to the relief funds for Covid-19, to which the advocates representing the companies said that they contributed towards Covid-19 relief including in the PM Cares Fund.

On the payment towards AGR dues, Bharti Airtel has paid ₹18,004 crore of the ₹43,980 crore dues, Vodafone Idea has paid ₹6,854 crore out of its dues of ₹ 1,400 crore and Tata Group has paid ₹4,197 crore out of ₹16,788 crore dues.

According to analysts tracking the industry, the current AGR judgement will allow telcos to chart a payment roadmap — staggered over a defined timeline with adequate security/guarantee.

“Spectrum, network equipment, including recoverable from the government can be considered as effective option for security collaterals. Telecom is a regulated sector with telcos operating under licenses issued by the DoT. Any default by telcos can have a bearing and thus the licenses act as an implicit guarantee, either which way,” said Prashant Singhal, Emerging Markets Technology, Media and Telecommunication Leader, EY.

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Published on June 11, 2020
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