Telecom Department’s Plea Seeking 20 Years For Payment Of AGR Dues Bears Cabinet Stamp
A telecom tower on a rooftop. (Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

Telecom Department’s Plea Seeking 20 Years For Payment Of AGR Dues Bears Cabinet Stamp

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The Department of Telecom's plea seeking 20 years' time for operators to pay adjusted gross revenue dues was approved by the Cabinet, Union minister Sanjay Dhotre informed Parliament on Thursday.

The Supreme Court will hear the government's rescue plan of giving telecom companies a 20-year repayment period for adjusted gross revenue dues during the next hearing scheduled after two weeks.

"Consequent to the approval by the Cabinet, an application has been moved before the Hon'ble Supreme Court on March 16, 2020, seeking, inter-alia, the permission of the Hon'ble Court for the licensees impacted by the AGR judgment to pay the unpaid or remaining to be paid amount of past DoT assessed/calculated dues in annual installments over 20 years duly protecting the net present value of the said dues using a discount rate of 8 percent," the Minister of State for Communications told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday had lashed out at Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and other mobile phone operators for self-assessing their outstanding telecom dues, saying they need to pay past dues with interest and penalty -- an estimated amount of Rs 1.69 lakh crore.

The apex court also came down heavily on the Department of Telecommunications for allowing companies to re-assess what they owed to the government and said its order -- passed on Oct. 24, 2019 -- on revenues for calculating dues was final.

A bench of Justice Arun Mishra, Justice S A Nazeer and Justice M R Shah refused to take up the Centre's plea for allowing telecom companies to pay AGR dues in 20 years, saying the application will be taken up after two weeks. "The time frame of 20 years is unreasonable. The telecom companies have to clear all dues mentioned in the judgment," the bench said, adding it had settled all AGR dues after hearing telecom companies and the government then had fought tooth and nail for interests and penalties.

Also read: Indian Court Refuses to Back Down on $19 Billion Telecom Dues

Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Tata Group's self-assessment of dues to the government are a whopping Rs 82,300 crore short of what the telecom department calculated after the Supreme Court's ruling on AGR. The Department of Telecommunications, according to its own submission to the apex court seeking relief in payment tenure, has put dues of the three companies at Rs 1.19 lakh crore.

The dues estimated by DoT for Bharti Airtel Ltd. and Telenor has pegged at Rs 43,980 crore, while that of Vodafone Idea Ltd. was Rs 58,254 crore, and Tata Group of companies at Rs 16,798 crore outlined under 'total demand of DoT incorporating Comptroller and Auditor General and special audit as on October 2019'. Against this, Bharti Group has calculated its dues at Rs 13,004 crore, Vodafone Idea at Rs 21,533 crore and Tata Group of companies at Rs 2,197 crore.

In all, AGR dues calculated by the government for 16 entities add up to Rs 1.69 lakh crore, while telcos' self-assessment place their dues at a mere Rs 37,176 crore. These dues arose after the Supreme Court, in October last year, upheld the government's position on including revenue from non-core businesses in calculating the annual AGR of telecom companies, a share of which is paid as licence and spectrum fee to the exchequer.

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