The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday made it clear that there could not be another attempt at calculating the adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues of telecom firms. Chiding the department of telecommunications (DoT) for allowing the companies to undertake self-assessment, the SC bench called the purpose of doing the numbers again a fraud on the court. It asked the DoT to withdraw the move.
“How is this not sheer contempt?” Justice Arun Mishra said for the DoT that allowed self-assessment of dues by telecom operators.
The SC said every company was violating orders and trying to hoodwink it, going so far as to say that the telecom firms were using the media to influence it. It said it would not tolerate this.
The apex court will now take up the matter after two weeks as it has agreed to hear the solicitor general’s plea seeking more time for companies to make the payments.
“Are we fools?… Do the DoT officers think they are superior to us? Are these companies untouchable? Everyone has been trying to influence us… Newspapers are having articles after articles but we won’t budge,” said a bench headed by Justice Mishra.
The judges were exasperated that the companies continued to knock on its doors even as its 24 October judgement made it amply clear what dues they had to pay. The court said the numbers were arrived at by the DoT only on which the case was fought.
The bench said that allowing self-assessment will not just be a review, but would mean reopening the entire judgement, even as some telecom companies suggested they would corroborate numbers of self assessment in 8-10 months.
The SC also asked for the DoT officials who allowed self-assessment of the dues, saying they will not be spared.
“They think they are more superior than us? Who is this gentleman who has allowed self assessment?” Justice Mishra said.
Ending a 14-year-long court battle, the SC had upheld the government’s definition of adjusted gross revenues (AGR) on which it calculates levies on telecom operators, dealing a blow to the industry.
Vodafone Idea was estimated to pay dues of ₹58,254 crore, including penalty and interest, based on the telecom department’s estimate. The company’s assessment though pegged it at ₹21,533 crore.
So far, the telecom firm has paid ₹6,854 crore, which is the entire principal amount it had self-assessed as dues related AGR.
Bharti Airtel Ltd has pegged its dues at ₹13,004 crore after self-assessment, less than a third of the ₹43,980 crore that was estimated by DoT. The amounts include Telenor India’s dues as well, which Bharti Airtel had acquired in 2018.
Bharti Airtel is in a much less precarious position, with the Sunil Mittal-led operator paying ₹18,004 crore to the government. The additional ₹5,000 crore that it has paid to the government over the amount it arrived at after self-assessment is to cover any differences that may arise between the DoT and the company.
Tata Teleservices has paid about ₹4,197 crore, while Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd has paid about ₹195 crore.
The government had on Monday sought SC’s permission to allow telecom operators to pay their licence and spectrum usage fee dues over an extended 20-year period, offering a flicker of hope to struggling telcos such as Vodafone Idea.
The DoT had proposed that telecom operators be allowed to stagger their payments to the government and pay a reduced annual interest rate of 8%. The total dues of the telecom firms stood at ₹1.69 trillion as of October, the telecom department had said in an affidavit to the court.