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SC seeks road map from telcos on AGR dues, Vodafone says no money to even pay salaries

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The Supreme Court Thursday asked private telecom operators to furnish undertakings and file affidavits giving a road map for clearing the Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) related dues as Vodafone Idea said that it does not have enough money to even pay salaries to its employees.

Bharti Airtel on other hand told the top court that it has paid 70 per cent dues as per its own calculations and the rest would be cleared after consulting the government.

A bench of Justices Arun Mishra, S Abdul Nazeer and M R Shah, which adjourned the hearing for next week, asked the firms as to what was the guarantee that they would clear the dues in the 20-year time-frame being sought by the government.

It questioned the telecom companies whether they were ready to give bank guarantee or directors are prepared to issue personal guarantee or any other security can be furnished because the court cannot allow such staggered payments of dues.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Vodafone Idea, said that as per the government’s calculations it owes over Rs 53,000 crore, which includes interest and penalty for non-payment of dues.

He said license and spectrum are separately auctioned and they have purchased it for thousands of crores of rupees.

The value of spectrum can be best security for payment of dues and licence and spectrum can be cancelled, if the dues are not paid , he said, adding that they do not have enough money to give any bank guarantees.

Rohatgi said, We are not in a position to give bank guarantees. We don’t have money to pay salaries to our employees and meet our expenses. Spectrum is very valuable and can be the best guarantee for payment of our dues .

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Bharti Airtel, said that as per their calculation they have paid 70 per cent of the dues and only minimal amounts remains, which would be cleared after consulting the government.

He said the company would file a detailed affidavit. The bench said that the government has suggested 20 years for payment of dues by the telecom companies but no one has seen the future and what would happen, if any one of the company goes into liquidation.

It said that litigation started in 1999 and 20 years have already gone and now another 20 years is being sought, can it be termed reasonable. Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for interim resolution professional said that three telecom companies are facing insolvency proceedings and are in the process of resolution.

Justice Shah told the counsels for the telecom firms that despite earning so much not a single company deposited anything towards Covid-19 relief funds.

While Airtel said that it has paid Rs 100 crore in Covid fund, Tata Group said has paid Rs 1,500 crore.

Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Tata Group’s self-assessed dues to the government are a whopping Rs 82,300 crore, which is short of what DoT calculated after the apex court’s October 24 ruling on the AGR.

In its submission before the apex court seeking relief in payment tenure, DoT had pegged Bharti Airtel’s dues at Rs 43,980 crore, Vodafone Idea at Rs 58,254 crore and Tata Group at Rs 16,798 crore.


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