AGR case: Supreme Court rejects review petitions of telcos challenging its verdict

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In its review petition, Bharti Airtel had said that though it was aggrieved by the entire judgment of the apex court, the company was limiting its review to the point that there was no ‘conscious disregard’ or ‘wilful default’ on part of the telco. (File)

The Supreme Court Thursday dismissed the review petitions by Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea, and other telecom companies challenging the apex court judgment in the Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) case. The companies had moved these review petitions after the apex court had, on October 24, 2019, upheld the definition of adjusted gross revenue (AGR), as decided by the Department of Telecom (DoT).

In its review petition, Bharti Airtel had said that though it was aggrieved by the entire judgment of the apex court, the company was limiting its review to the point that there was no ‘conscious disregard’ or ‘wilful default’ on part of the telco. “It is stated that Bharti Group, including the Petitioner, had already made a combined payment of Rs 30,603 crore, which amounts to approx 85 per cent of the total demand raised,” Bharti Airtel said in its review petition, claiming that the DoT was trying to enrich itself unjustifiably. Apart from Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea, Tata Teleservices, and Sistema Shyam Teleservices have also moved review petitions before the top court.

Responding to the judgment, Bharti Airtel issued a press statement today. "While respecting the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s decision, we would like to express our disappointment as we believe the long-standing disputes raised regarding the AGR definition were bonafide and genuine. The industry continues to face severe financial stress and the outcome could further erode the viability of the sector as a whole. The industry needs to continue to invest in expanding networks, acquiring spectrum and introducing New Technologies like 5G. The money now required to pay punitive interest, penalty and interest on penalty which forms nearly 75% of AGR dues would have better served the digital mission of the country. We are evaluating filing a curative petition," read the statement.

The apex court judgment on AGR has also saddled non-telecom PSUs such as GAIL, Power Grid, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, and RailTel. Following the judgment, the DoT had written to GAIL and Power Grid, asking them to pay AGR fees of Rs 1.72 lakh crore and Rs 1.25 lakh crore, respectively. GAIL, Power Grid and other companies have denied that they owe any monies to the DoT, and said they have already paid all dues to the government.

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Though the companies had also approached the DoT seeking relief, the Department has reiterated several times that any relief to non-telecom public sector undertakings aggrieved by the SC judgment must come from the apex court itself.