The country’s two top telecom operators – Vodafone Idea and Airtel – on Friday filed review petitions in the Supreme Court against its AGR verdict, just ahead of the 30-day time period expiring Saturday since the court’s order dealt a financial body blow to the already battered industry neck deep in debts and losses.
Both Airtel and Vodafone Idea have filed for review petitions on waiver of interest and penalties of the AGR amount, sources said. The telcos went to the court again after the government told them that there is no proposal at present to waive interest and penalties on such dues.
As per Communication Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad‘s replies in the Parliament, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and other telecom companies owe the government as much as Rs 1.47 lakh crore in past statutory dues. In replies to separate questions in the Lok Sabha, Prasad said telecom companies owe the government Rs 92,642 crore in unpaid licence fee, and another Rs 55,054 crore in outstanding spectrum usage charges.
In the case of Bharti Airtel, the liabilities added up to nearly Rs 35,586 crore, of which Rs 21,682 crore is licence fee and another Rs 13,904.01 crore is the SUC dues (not including the dues of Telenor and Tata Teleservices). In the case of Vodafone Idea, this number stands at a cumulative Rs 53,038 crore, including Rs 24,729 crore of SUC dues and Rs 28,309 crore in licence fee.
Both the petitions of Airtel and Vodafone India contest imposition of interest on outstanding dues and penalties as upheld by the Supreme Court, said sources. The deadline for payment of licence fee and spectrum charges dues on account of AGR definition as decided by the court over the last 14 years is January 24.
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has already issued demand notices to telcos asking them to do self-assessment, and submit the dues by around January 22, as directed by the Supreme Court in its late October judgement that favoured DoT in the 16-year-old dispute.
Under the impact of the dues, Vodafone Idea filed the highest-ever quarterly loss in the corporate history – Rs 50,992 crore in the second quarter of 2019/20. Airtel’s net losses were also phenomenal at Rs 22,830 crore in the same quarter. Both telcos have counted higher losses on the provisioning for AGR dues.
Bharti Airtel, for instance, has provisioned for Rs 28,450 crore in the September quarter which is over and above its earlier provisioning of about Rs 5,810 crore – taking the total provisioning (for AGR dues) to Rs 34,260 crore.