SC dismisses telcos’ plea against recovery of ₹1.47 lakh crore

Indian telecos, Supreme Court, Bharati Airtel, Vodafone Idea Limited
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. Representative image

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 ₹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 ‘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 owed the government as much as ₹1.47 lakh crore in past statutory dues.

He had added that there was no proposal at present to waive interest and penalties on such dues. In replies to separate questions in the Lok Sabha, Ravi Shankar Prasad had said telecom companies owed the government ₹92,642 crore in unpaid license fee, and another ₹55,054 crore in outstanding spectrum usage charges.

In an affidavit filed earlier in the top court, the DoT said Airtel owed ₹21,682.13 crore as a licence fee to the government and dues from Vodafone totalled ₹19,823.71 crore, while Reliance Communications owed ₹16,456.47 crore.

BSNL owed ₹2,098.72 crore and MTNL ₹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.

Bharati Airtel sources said the company was evaluating options to file a curative petition.

(With inputs from agencies)

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