A banner for Aircel Ltd. is displayed outside a mobile phone store. (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

Aircel Wants More Time For Fresh Bids Citing Time Lost In Supreme Court

The resolution professional of Aircel sought excluding the 127 days it lost in fighting and winning a case against the government and Airtel so that it could seek fresh bids for the remaining assets of the crippled company.

The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code mandated 270 days for a resolution is already over for the bankrupt company and it wants the National Company Law Tribunal to exclude the 127 days it spent in fighting the case against government and Airtel at the apex court and won.

The Supreme Court in January last year directed Bharti Airtel to pay Rs 453 crore immediately to Aircel. It asked the Department of Telecommunications to pay Rs 298 crore to the operator.

This is yet another instance of the NCLT cases failing to meet the law mandated 270 days for resolution failing which the company goes into liquidation.

The resolution professional said it should be allowed to seek fresh bids for Aircel. But the NCLT bench headed by MK Shrawat didn't offer relief and posted the matter for further hearing on Feb. 8.

The Supreme Court order came on a contempt petition filed by Aircel employees, who had accused both Airtel and Department of Telecommunications of failing to repay Rs 751 crore. The licensor was holding about Rs 751 crore as bank guarantees submitted when Aircel transferred its spectrum to Bharti Airtel in April 2016.

Aircel had to pay Department of Telecommunications Rs 298 crore in cash and Rs 453 crore in bank guarantees (totalling Rs 751 crore) as a pre-condition for clearing the spectrum transfer. These were arranged by Airtel, which was deducted from the consideration price of Rs 3,500 crore.

Aircel had contested Department of Telecommunications’ demand for Rs 751 crore before the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal, which in a Jan. 9, 2018 order had directed that the bank guarantees should be released within four weeks. But the TDSAT had permitted the department to retain Rs 298 crore till another issue was settled.

Aircel and its subsidiaries Aircel Cellular and Dishnet Wireless together owe around Rs 50,000 crore to creditors. The combined liability of the firms towards financial creditors stands at Rs 15,545 crore and around Rs 35,000 crore to operational creditors. The telco's assets, including spectrum licences and fibre assets, are valued at around Rs 32,362 crore.

Aircel group had on Dec. 1, 2017 informed the Telecom Regulatory Authority that it intended to surrender its entire licence in the Gujarat, Maharashtra, Haryana, Himachal, MP and UP-West circles, following which the company shut services in these circles from Jan. 31, 2018.

On Feb. 22, 2018, Aircel had informed Trai that it was facing deep financial stress. Subsequently, Trai asked it to give time to its subscribers to shift to other networks.

Also read: IBC: Supreme Court Upholds Insolvency And Bankruptcy Code In Its Entirety