'DoT to take penal action against telcos for delay in statutory dues payment'

PRASOON SRIVASTAVA

New Delhi, Feb 15 (PTI) The telecom department is mulling penal action against telecom operators for failing to pay in time the adjusted gross revenue dues as directed by the Supreme Court, according to an official source.

With Saturday being a holiday in various offices, the Department of Telecom (DoT) is likely to wait till Monday evening for the payment before sending out the next set of notices with updated penalty and other punitive action as per the licence norms, the source told PTI.

'The DoT has sent five notices to telecom operators with reminders and penalty provisions on October 31, November 13, December 2, January 20 and now on February 14. Telecom operators are bound to pay as per the SC order and the department never gave them any extension. Now, telecom operators are saying they will pay a sizable amount by Monday but action will be taken against them for every delay,' the official said.

The DoT had issued stringent order to telecom operators to pay by Friday midnight after facing the ire of the SC for no action taken by it to recover dues and passing an order to not take any coercive action against the defaulters. However, none of the companies made the payment on February 14.

The DoT source said the order was issued for internal processes to avoid any complication as the matter was sub-judice.

'DoT did not pass any order to telecom operators. Telecom operators filed a modification plea before (the) SC. The apex court after admitting the plea and just before the last date of payment listed the matter for a later date. This left DoT with no room to seek any clarification from the court. Hence, the department passed an internal order to avoid complication and any chance of contempt to the court proceedings,' the source said.

The official further said there will be action against telecom players for delay in payment and the same has been mentioned in the notice and reminders sent to them.

According to the last available estimates, telecom operators have to collectively pay Rs 1.47 lakh crore adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues.

Public sector companies, that don't sell telecom services, owe the DoT around Rs 2.65 lakh crore, with GAIL India alone owing around 65 per cent of the total amount. However, these PSUs have the option to approach the court for a legal recourse.

Airtel responded to the DoT order of February 14 by offering to pay Rs 10,000 crore by February 20 and the remaining before March 17. Airtel owes nearly Rs 35,586 crore, including licence fee and spectrum usage charge, to the government.

Meanwhile, Vodafone Idea on Saturday said it is assessing the amount that can be paid towards AGR dues, even as it flagged concerns over the continuation of its business.

Vodafone Idea Ltd (VIL), whose liability is estimated to be around Rs 53,038 crore, including Rs 24,729 crore of spectrum dues and Rs 28,309 crore in licence fee, has already warned of shutdown if no relief is given.

India has been divided into 22 telecom circles or zones for the issue of licenses to operators. And their revenues are calculated circle-wise.

And so, the DoT issued circle wise demand notices to telecom firms.

An order for the UP (West) Telecom Circle asked 'all telecom service providers' to clear dues by 11.59 pm Friday.

It asked companies to 'make the payment of outstanding dues of licence fee and spectrum usage charges by 14.02.2020, 11:59 PM positively'.

Another order issued for the Rajasthan circle sought 'immediate' payments, failing which action would be initiated. It sought 'immediate payment of due licence fee and spectrum usage charges along with interest, penalty and interest on penalty (if applicable)' and warned that if the dues are not paid immediately, 'necessary action will be taken in terms of the provisions of licence agreement without any further notice'.

'This may be treated as most urgent,' it added. PTI PRS BAL BAL