A plane flies over a telecom tower. (Photographer: Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg)  

DoT Asks Airtel, Vodafone Idea, Others To Clear AGR Dues By Midnight



After the Supreme Court's rap, the Department of Telecommunications has ordered firms, including Bharti Airtel Ltd. and Vodafone Idea Ltd., to clear AGR dues before Friday midnight.

In response, Airtel in a letter to the DoT said it will deposit Rs 10,000 crore by Feb. 20, 2020, and the balance before the next date of hearing, i.e. March 17, 2020.

The DoT, which faced the ire of Supreme Court for putting on hold recovery of dues from telecom companies, has started issuing circle or zone-wise demand notices to firms, according to an order seen by the Press Trust of India.

The order issued on Friday by the UP (West) Telecom Circle asked "all telecom service providers" to clear dues by 11:59 pm Friday. "With reference to subject cited above, you are hereby directed to make the payment of outstanding dues of licence fee and spectrum usage charges by 14.02.2020, 11:59 pm positively.”

One of the telecom operators, who did not wish to be named, confirmed the receipt of the said order from the circle.

Watch| Senior lawyers discuss the implications of today’s Supreme Court order

In all, 15 entities owe the government Rs 1.47 lakh crore—Rs 92,642 crore in unpaid licence fee and another Rs 55,054 crore in outstanding spectrum usage charges—it is not immediately clear just how much of that has been sought by the government by Friday midnight.

Earlier in the day, soon after Supreme Court’s ruling in the AGR dues case, the DoT withdrew its order that asked for no coercive action against telecom firms defaulting on annual gross revenue dues.

The apex court’s order also directs field offices to take "immediate necessary action" in compliance with its October judgment.

The direction by the DoT says its previous order dated Jan. 23, 2020, "stands withdrawn with immediate effect".

"It is directed to take immediate necessary action in compliance with the judgement dated October 24, 2019 of the Supreme Court," said the fresh order issued by the DoT.

Statutory Pain

Of the three private companies operating in the Indian telecom market, Vodafone Idea is considered to be the most vulnerable. The joint venture of U.K.’s Vodafone Group Plc and India’s Aditya Birla Group has AGR dues of Rs 53,000 crore—Rs 24,729 crore of spectrum dues and Rs 28,309 crore in licence fee.

The company has earlier warned of shutdown if no relief was given.

Also Read: What Will It Take To Save Vodafone Idea...

Rival Bharti Airtel's liabilities added up to nearly Rs 35,586 crore, but it has said that the previously-mentioned material uncertainty on the group's ability to continue as a going concern "no longer exists" after its recent Rs 21,502 crore fundraising.

Most of the remaining liability is with state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd., and some of the shut or bankrupt telecom companies.

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