India telcos file plea to SC seeking time to pay Rs 1.02 lakh crore

Business Desk | Published: 00:00, Jan 23,2020


India’s Supreme Court will next week hear pleas by Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Tata Teleservices that they be allowed to negotiate terms and timelines for payment of statutory dues with the Department of Telecommunications, reports Economic Times.

The SC move has given hope to the three phone companies seeking relief on payments aggregating Rs 1.02 lakh crore due Thursday.

DoT officials indicated they were open to discussions but said an initial payment had to be made by the deadline.

The court, in its order on Tuesday, didn’t specifically defer the January 23 deadline. The phone companies expect that the DoT won’t force the carriers to pay their entire dues by Thursday and wait until the court decides on the matter.

‘Until the court hears next week, we do not expect DoT to press for payments. We expect DoT to wait for court to clarify the modification petition,’ said Rajan Mathews, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), an industry body that represents Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio Infocomm.

DoT officials told ET that if the phone companies remit a part of the dues by the deadline, the government is open to discussing a payment schedule for the remainder, possibly over a few years.

 ‘Our stand is clear — we are saying at least show us your intention to pay. If the telecom companies pay some amount on the 23rd, then we can soften our stand,’ a senior government official said.

Once such an initial payment is made, DoT will likely ask the companies how they propose to spread the payment ‘before they go to the court, so that we do not oppose their plea to negotiate the timeline with the DoT,’ said another official.

Investors were buoyed by hopes of a positive outcome Vodafone Idea surged 21.8 per cent to close at Rs 5.92 while Bharti Airtel ended 0.4 per cent higher at Rs 511.35 on the BSE Tuesday.

A bench headed by chief justice of India SA Bobde said on Tuesday that a justice Arun Mishra-led bench will hear the modification pleas next week. Mishra had headed the three-member bench that passed the October 24 verdict widening the definition of adjusted gross revenue (AGR) to include non-core items. This meant 15 telcos had to pay additional licence fees, spectrum usage charges (SUC), interest and penalty dues of more than Rs1.47 lakh crore by January 23. Licence fees and SUC are calculated on the basis of AGR.

The court had last week rejected review petitions from the three telcos, prompting them to file the modification applications on Monday, warning of bankruptcies, defaults and job losses if forced to pay the whole amount at one go.

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