“We won’t spare officials who allowed reassessment of telecom dues,” the Supreme Court said
The Supreme Court today came down heavily on the government for suggesting reassessment of the huge dues owed by telecom companies — called adjusted gross revenues (AGR) – and saying the “entire country” was being misled. The government had asked that the companies be allowed to stagger the payments over 20 years. “Are we fools? How is this not sheer contempt,” asked the furious judges, calling it a question of “this court’s prestige”. If reassessment was permitted, the judges said, it would be fraud on the top court. “We won’t spare officials who allowed reassessment of telecom dues,” they said, ordering the Department of Telecom (DoT) to withdraw its petition.
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“Bills were raised, CAG (national auditor) has audited, how can self-assessment be done now,” asked the court, adding, “Do companies feel they are more powerful on earth? If anyone feels they’re more powerful or try to influence us they’re wrong.”
The government had talked about a reassessment based on self-assessment by the telecom companies of how much they owed. “Self-assessment by DoT is sheer violation of our orders, sheer contempt,” the court said. It also said “even the media is in grossest contempt of court” for misleading the country on the judgment.
“We won’t tolerate this, every company is violating orders. They want to hoodwink us. If required, we will summon MDs of all the telecom companies. We will send then to jail from here,” said Justice Arun Mishra.
The Supreme Court said some telecom companies had suggested they would corroborate numbers of self-assessment in eight to 10 months. “We will recuse ourselves if this is the government’s attitude,” said Justice Arun Mishra.
The government, in its petition, said it had found that telcos required to make the payments were catering to crores of consumers in the country and “any immediate adverse impact on the functioning of telecom service providers would not only have an adverse impact on the overall economy of the nation but would also seriously harm the interest of the consumers across the country.”
In an angry response, the court said: “It’s public money someone is trying to pocket and DoT is saying we are excessive? The government fought tooth and nail and suggested penalty during arguments earlier. Now you want to do away with the interest.”
Telecom operators are required to pay licence fee and spectrum charges in the form of revenue share to the centre. The amount used to calculate the revenue share is termed as the Adjusted Gross Revenue or AGR.
Telecom service providers pay the government 3-5 per cent of their AGR in spectrum usage charges and 8 per cent as licence fees. The companies argue that the AGR should include only revenues generated from telecom services. The government, however, believes it should include non-telecom earnings too.
In October, the Supreme Court ordered telecom companies to pay the government Rs 92,000 crore within three months.
After the order, two of India’s only three remaining private sector telecom companies, Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel, posted their highest-ever losses.