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Vodafone Idea, Airtel may move SC for AGR ruling review this week

The industry as a whole faces dues worth over Rs 1.3 lakh crore in licensee fee, spectrum usage charge (SUC), penalties and interest, after SC backed the government’s stance that non-core items should be included while calculating AGR. Licensee fe...

Updated: Nov 13, 2019, 07.44 AM IST
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Analysts say Vodafone Idea, which is making quarterly losses of roughly Rs 5,000 crore with weak operating income and debt of over Rs 99,000 crore, is worse off than Airtel, and can face existential issues if forced to cough up the entire dues.
Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel are set to file a review petition this week, which may include seeking a reduction in the penalties and interest component of the dues, as well as question some components of the non-core items that the Supreme Court says should be included while computing adjusted gross revenue (AGR) of telcos.

This, after the government made it clear that it was up to the mobile phone companies to move court to seek a review of the order to get relief, or if they want more time to pay up the dues, officials told ET.

The industry as a whole faces dues worth over Rs 1.3 lakh crore in licensee fee, spectrum usage charge (SUC), penalties and interest, after SC backed the government’s stance that non-core items should be included while calculating AGR. Licensee fee and SUC are calculated on the basis of AGR. Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel are the worst hit with combined additional dues of over Rs 80,000 crore to the government.

“Vodafone Idea will file a review petition in next few days and Bharti Airtel will follow suit,” said a person familiar with the matter.

Another person said that the two carriers are likely to seek only a limited review of the Supreme Court ruling, and won’t challenge the whole order.

They will likely focus on questioning whether certain specific non-core items can be removed from the AGR definition. “They are likely to also seek a waiver or reduction of the interest and penalties as well,” the person said.

The initial petitions are unlikely to include any request on extending the timelines.

The two telcos did not respond to ET’s queries.

Officials in the government said that the telecom department was moving ahead with issuing notices to the telcos since over two weeks had lapsed and the telecom companies had failed to move court, even to seek an extension of the three-month timeline to pay the dues to the government.

“Telecom operators have been asked to pay up the entire dues in three months’ time and two weeks have already passed. We can only give them additional time if the telecom companies seek that in the court. Our hands are tied on this matter, we can't do anything on our own,” a senior government official said.

The legal route is part of a two-pronged strategy of the telcos, the other one being to push the government to give some financial relief.

The government has already set up a panel of secretaries, headed by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, to suggest ways to restore the health of the sector.

Soon after the SC order, Bharti Airtel, which has to pay Rs 41,000 crore in dues, had said it was “disappointed” by the verdict while Vodafone Idea, whose dues amounted to over Rs 39,000 crore, said the order had “damaging implications” for the industry, and had said it may file for a review of the order.

Analysts say Vodafone Idea, which is making quarterly losses of roughly Rs 5,000 crore with weak operating income and debt of over Rs 99,000 crore, is worse off than Airtel, and can face existential issues if forced to cough up the entire dues.

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Assocham seeks urgent government intervention on wider impact of AGR ruling

AGR ruling may hit any company with telecom licence

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