SC dismisses review pleas of telcos, directs them to clear past dues of 1.47 lakh crore
New Delhi, Jan 16: The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed review petitions of top telecom firms including Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea seeking review of its earlier order asking them to pay Rs 1.47 lakh crore in past statutory dues by January 23.
The apex court had on October 24 ruled that statutory dues need to be calculated by including non-telecom revenues in what is known as adjusted gross revenues (AGR) of telcos.
A bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, S A Nazeer and M R Shah in-chamber hearing did not find merit in the review plea and dismissed it.
The telecom companies had sought an open court hearing on their review petition but the Supreme Court decided to stick to its convention of doing an in-chamber hearing.
The apex court had on October 24 last year upheld the AGR definition formulated by the DoT and termed as "frivolous" the nature of objections raised by telecom service providers.
Bharti Airtel, in its plea, had sought review of the directions on aspects of levy of interest, penalty and interest on penalty relating to AGR, a source related to the development had said.
Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had told Parliament in November that Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and other telecom companies owe the government as much as Rs 1.47 lakh crore in past statutory dues.
He had added that there is no proposal at present to waive interest and penalties on such dues.
In replies to separate questions in the Lok Sabha, Prasad had said telecom companies owe the government Rs 92,642 crore in unpaid licence fee, and another Rs 55,054 crore in outstanding spectrum usage charges.
In an affidavit filed earlier in the top court, the DoT said Airtel owed Rs 21,682.13 crore as licence fee to the government and dues from Vodafone totalled Rs 19,823.71 crore, while Reliance Communications owed Rs 16,456.47 crore. BSNL owed Rs 2,098.72 crore, and MTNL Rs 2,537.48 crore.
Holding that interest and penalty have rightly been levied on the telecom companies, the apex court had made it clear that there would be no further litigation on the issue and it would fix a time-frame for calculation and payment of dues by the telecom companies.
May File Curative Petition: Airtel
With the Supreme Court dismissing its review petition on AGR dues, telecom company Bharti Airtel on Thursday said it is disappointed, and evaluating options to file a curative petition in the matter.
"While respecting the 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," Airtel said in a statement.
The company is "evaluating filing a curative petition", it added.
"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," it said.
The money now required to pay punitive interest, penalty and interest on penalty which forms nearly 75 per cent of AGR dues would have better served the digital mission of the country, Airtel added.