No coercive action against telcos not paying dues: DoT

Aashish Aryan
No coercive action against telcos not paying dues: DoT

Officials of the DoT had on Wednesday told The Indian Express that they would have to move a separate civil suit seeking the apex court’s directions on what it should do going ahead, if it seeks to recover the AGR dues from all the companies.

On a day when none of the telcos or non-telecom companies, barring Reliance Jio, turned up to pay clear their adjusted gross revenues (AGR) dues, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) Thursday evening issued a letter stating that there would be no coercive action against all licensees, both telecom and non-telecom, until further orders. The deadline for telcos and non-telecom companies to pay the AGR dues was to end on Thursday.

A detailed status report of compliance, or otherwise may be sent to the CGCA (Controller General of Communication Accounts) TSP (telecom service provider) wise on 24.01.2020 by 5 PM,” the DoT letter, sent out by the Licensing Finance Policy Wing of the DoT, said.

The stance taken by DoT was also confirmed by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who while speaking to The Indian Express ruled out the possibility of immediate and automatic triggering of contempt of court case against the companies if they failed to pay by January 23 deadline.

The letter by DoT was preceded by early morning correspondence from both Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea to the telecom ministry, in which the two companies said that they would not be paying any AGR dues as of now as the matter was “sub-judice”.

DoT officials confirmed receipt of the letters, and said that both the companies had requested time until the Supreme Court (SC) had heard their modification pleas.

Officials of the DoT had on Wednesday told The Indian Express that they would have to move a separate civil suit seeking the apex court’s directions on what it should do going ahead, if it seeks to recover the AGR dues from all the companies.

According to the October 24, 2019 judgment of the SC, both telcos and non-telecom companies were required to clear their AGR dues within three months, the deadline for which expired on Thursday.

Both Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel had approached the apex court on Monday seeking its permission to “work out feasible terms mutually with DoT (Department of Telecommunications)” to ensure that they remain a “going concern”.

Vodafone Idea had, in its plea, said that it was “facing a huge financial stress and is not in a position to make either up front payment of the amounts due or provide any financial bank guarantees to securitise the amounts due”.

On the other hand, Bharti Airtel, in its plea, stressed upon the larger ramifications, the financial viability of the companies impacted by the AGR judgment, and large scale job losses which could happen if no relief was given.

The apex court had on October 24 last agreed with the DoT’s definition of AGR, and said that the companies, both telecom and non-telecom, must pay all dues they owe to the government along with interest and penalty. Following the judgment, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea had unsuccessfully tried to persuade the DoT to relax the deadline for payment of dues.

Having failed there, the companies then moved the apex court with a review of the October 24 judgment.

The review petition, which was junked by the court last week, did not give any extension on the deadline for paying AGR dues either.

The total payout by all telecom companies combined could be as high as Rs 1.43 lakh crore after the dues for spectrum usage charges (SUC) linked to AGR is also taken into account.

According to industry sources, while Vodafone Idea may have to shell out as much as Rs 53,000 crore, Bharti Airtel will have to pay nearly Rs 35,590 crore.

Tata Teleservices, which sold its business to Bharti Airtel, will have to pay as much as Rs 14,000 crore in AGR dues, sources said.

Reliance Jio Infocomm, which had the least AGR burden at Rs 195 crore, cleared all its dues till January 31, 2020, according to sources aware of the development.