SC pulls up Airtel, Vodafone-Idea for short payment

India’s Supreme Court has issued strong strictures against telecom companies Bharti Airtel, Vodafone-Idea, others for not following its ruling on adjusted gross revenue (AGR).

While hearing the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) plea in regard to the AGR case, a bench of the apex court on March 18 held that no further objections to its orders would be allowed against payable dues.

In its order, the three-judge bench led by Justice Mishra, and comprising Justices S Abdul Nazeer and MR Shah held that no self-assessment can be done and no further objection would be entertained.

The SC order directed that no exercise of self-assessment be carried out and no further objection would be entertained.

The apex order states “All dues as per our judgement will have to be paid, including interest and penalty. The Solicitor General had filed a plea seeking reasonable time, we will consider this plea on the next date”.

The order further stated that the court does “not appreciate telcos’ actions and will hold MDs personally accountable.”

Meanwhile, telecom companies have made AGR based on self assessment are pulled for short payment.

Airtel has paid Rs 13,004 crore to the government in two instalments. It had also deposited an additional Rs 5,000 crore “as an ad-hoc payment (subject to subsequent refund/ adjustment) to cover differences, if any, arising from the reconciliation exercise with the DoT”.

The total payout by Bharti Airtel, however, is half of the Rs 35,586.01 crore liability estimated by DoT.

SC told telecom operators to settle all dues and termed the 20 years’ time frame proposed by the government for AGR (adjusted gross revenue) payment as “unreasonable”.

The top court directed that “no self-assessment or re-assessment of AGR dues needs to be done by telecom companies” and if done “they will be held in contempt”.

The wider definition of AGR left 15 telcos, including many that are now defunct, facing over Rs 1.43 lakh crore in license fees, spectrum usage charge, interest and penalties.

Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel and Tata Teleservices were the worst affected with combined dues of Rs 1.19 lakh crore.

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