Bharti Airtel Ltd’s chief regulatory officer Ravi Gandhi, who resigned from the company earlier last month and is currently serving his notice period, is likely to join a ‘rival group’, according to documents seen by Mint. Gandhi served at Airtel for 12 years and led its regulatory division through the most turbulent matters including the dispute with the department of telecommunications (DoT) over the definition of adjusted gross revenues that culminated in a Supreme Court (SC) decision going against the company.
According to a letter Bharti Airtel chief executive officer Gopal Vittal wrote to the company’s staff, “Since Ravi will be leaving us to join a competitor group, he has expressed keenness to be disassociated from Airtel on a day to day basis." A copy of the letter was seen by Mint. The letter said Vidyut Gulati will be the acting regulatory head till such time the company appointed one. Gandhi’s last day at Airtel is expected to be 31 March, as per the letter.
Both Airtel and Gandhi refused to say anything on the matter. A source told Mint Gandhi was likely to join Reliance Retail. A letter sent to Reliance Industries Ltd, Reliance Retail’s parent, remained unanswered till the time of filing this story.
Speculation has been rife that Airtel losing the AGR case at SC was behind Gandhi’s departure. But according to sources, this wasn’t the case and Gandhi is leaving purely for reasons of personal growth.
The apex court had on 24 October ended a 14-year battle by upholding the government’s definition of AGR, which includes income from revenue lines that are not central to the main business of telecom companies like rent received and dividends from subsidiaries.
It directed the companies to pay dues of more than ₹1 trillion. Vodafone Idea Ltd owes more than ₹50,000 crore to the government, while Bharti Airtel owes ₹35,586 crore. Tata Teleservices, which sold its mobile business to Airtel, has dues of ₹14,000 crore.
The government has said it will not take coercive action against telecom operators who failed to meet the court-directed 23 January deadline to pay the dues, after Vodafone Idea and Airtel sought more time.
Vodafone Idea, Airtel, and Tata Teleservices have sought more time to pay AGR-related dues and last month filed a modification plea in the apex court to negotiate a payment schedule with DoT, which has issued demand notices to the companies asking for payments to be made.
The court is likely to hear the modification pleas this week.