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After SC rap, telcos agree to make 'partial' payment

After SC rap, telcos agree to make partial payment

New Delhi: After the Supreme Court threatens telecom service providers (TSPs) with contempt proceedings if they do not pay the AGR dues by March 17, the TSPs were in a hurry to 'make partial payment' of their total dues on Friday. According to sources, Airtel, Vodafone Idea, Tata, etc have approached the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for partial payment of the dues after the Supreme Court slammed all TSPs for not paying their dues on January 23, which was the last date of their payment.

It's a must for TSPs to initiate payment of their dues else they may face legal action for not obeying the orders of the top court, the sources affirmed.

While Airtel said it will deposit Rs 10,000 crore out of its dues of about Rs 55,000 crore within a week, there was no word from Vodafone on payment of dues.

"Nevertheless, in compliance with the judgement of the Hon'ble Supreme Court and their direction today, we shall deposit a sum of Rs 10,000 crore (on account) by 20th February, 2020, on behalf of the Bharti Group companies," Airtel said in a letter to Member (Finance) at the DoT.

The Supreme Court on Friday threatened contempt proceedings against top executives of Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and other telecom firms for failing to comply with its directive to pay an estimated Rs 1.47 lakh crore in past dues, and asked whether there was no law left in the country.

In an order which will have a far-reaching implications for the telecom sector, the apex court expressed displeasure at the "temerity" of a desk officer in the Department of Telecom for "scuttling" its order by issuing a written directive to not take any coercive action against firms for not depositing dues by the January 23, 2020, deadline. A bench of Justices Arun Mishra, S Abdul Nazeer and M R Shah said the companies have violated its order "in pith and substance" and asked them to clear dues before the next date of hearing on March 17.

Following the Supreme Court rap, the Department of Telecom withdrew its January 23, 2020 order and started issuing notices to telcos asking them to deposit dues before midnight of Friday.

Expressing displeasure over an order passed by the DoT's desk officer, which virtually stayed the effect of its verdict, the apex court said this is nothing "but a device to scuttle" its judgment and this case projects a "very disturbing scenario". It issued a notice to the officer. As per experts, the accountability of desk officers should also fixed for issuing order for the convenience of TSPs by going against the Supreme Court directions.

The desk officers were also summoned by the SC on Friday.

The top court made it clear that in case its order is not complied with, the desk officer of the DoT and top executives of these

companies "shall remain personally present" before it on March 17.

Separate petitions filed by non-telecom firms such as gas utility GAIL and power transmission firm PowerGrid, who were slapped with a demand of Rs 2.65 lakh crore by the DoT, were withdrawn by the applicants after the court said they can represent their case at appropriate forms.

The sources said that the DoT demand notices, an order seen by Millennium Post, to telecom companies and asking them to clear their dues by Friday midnight was issued by an Uttar Pradesh circle and not by DoT headquarters.

"The technical point behind issuance of such demand notice from a circle is aimed at legalizing the contempt period from January 23 as non-payment of dues by TSPs is 100 per cent contempt of the

court. It's been told to TSPs and government by SC judge Arun Mishra while hearing the case," the sources said.

The court had on October 24 last year ordered that non-telecom revenues should be included in the Adjusted Gross Revenues (AGR) for calculating statutory dues such as license fee and spectrum charges.

The DoT calculated that Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and others owe as much as Rs 1.47 lakh crore in past dues, including penalties and interest, while non-telecom firms, who had taken some licence from it, owed another Rs 2.65 lakh crore.

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