Home >Industry >Telecom >SC quashes telcos’ plea on AGR dues

The Supreme Court on Friday refused to review the amount payable by three telcos to the government towards adjusted gross revenue (AGR) related dues, dealing a blow to telecom firms Vodafone Idea Ltd and Bharti Airtel Ltd.

The bench, headed by Justice L. Nageswara Rao, rejected the applications moved by Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel and Tata Teleservices that pointed out alleged errors in calculating AGR dues and sought a recomputation of the dues.

“We have dealt with all three applications by a common order. All miscellaneous applications are rejected," said the bench, which also included justices S.A. Nazeer and M.R. Shah while pronouncing the operative part of the order. The court lent credence to its September 2020 judgement, which had categorically stated that the dues payable by telcos will not be open to any reassessment.

“That, for the demand raised by the department of telecommunications in respect of the AGR dues based on the judgement of this court, there shall not be any dispute raised by any of the telecom operators and that there shall not be any reassessment," the September 2020 judgement noted.

We have dealt with all three applications by a common order. All miscellaneous applications are rejected, said the bench
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We have dealt with all three applications by a common order. All miscellaneous applications are rejected, said the bench

Citing this part of the previous judgement, the bench on Friday refused to reopen the issue and opined that entertaining the telecom majors’ plea would amount to indirectly reviewing the September 2020 order.

With the dismissal of the applications, the court has yet again put a stamp on DoT’s calculation, according to which telecom service providers must pay 93,520 crore of AGR related dues over a period of 10 years to clear their outstanding amount to the government. According to a note submitted by DoT in the Supreme Court last year, Vodafone Idea owed 58,254 crore, out of which it has paid around 7,850 crore. Bharti Airtel had total dues of 43,980 crore, and the group had cleared a little over 18,000 crore. Out of the total outstanding of 16,798 crore, Tata Telecom has paid 4,197 crore till date.

In a previous hearing on 19 July, the telecom companies had claimed arithmetical errors besides cases of duplication of entries, as they sought to persuade the bench that they were not asking for reassessment but were only looking for rectification of calculation errors. The court was requested to allow them to approach DoT, which could look into their grievances and inform the court, accordingly.

With a debt of 1.8 trillion and cash balance of 350 crore, Vodafone Idea, through senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, linked the firm’s viability to a reduction of its AGR dues, asking for a permission to place the calculations before DoT.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, for Airtel, and senior counsel Arvind Datar, for Tata, too, submitted that they were not seeking a recomputation of their dues, but only an opportunity with DoT to rectify certain mistakes in calculation.

When asked about DoT’s stand on the issue, solicitor general Tushar Mehta said he did not have any instruction from the department and that he required a day or two to revert.

The bench had then reserved its order on the applications. In its September order, the apex court had said that telecom operators shall make the payment of 10% of the total dues as demanded by DoT by 31 March 2021 and the rest should be paid in yearly instalments commencing from 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2031.

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