After the Supreme Court on Thursday rejected the telcos' plea to review its 24 October adjusted gross revenue (AGR) ruling, under which they have to pay nearly Rs 1.02 lakh crore as statutory payment to the government by January 23, Airtel and Vodafone Idea (VIL) said they could file curative petitions.
In a late-night statement VIL said, "the company is exploring further options, including filing of a curative petition". Airtel said it was mulling a curative petition over the AGR order.
Tata Teleservices, which had also filed the review petition didn't comment on its future course of action.
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), the industry association, termed the dismissal of petitions as the last straw on the sector's back reeling under the financial stress.
"While we respect the Supreme Court's order dismissing the review petition on AGR order, the telecom sector is deeply disappointed," said COAI Director General Rajan Mathews.
He said the sector, reeling under Rs 4 lakh crore debt, was a key contributor to the Indian economy in terms of consumer benefit, employment, revenue generation and contributed 6.5 per cent to the gross domestic product (GDP).
"The sector is facing 29-32 per cent taxes and levies, which are the highest globally," he said and added, it had to be seen whether the industry could recover from this setback.
This added financial pressure on the sector would also adversely impact Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vision of 'digital India', Mathews said.
"The industry needs to continue to invest in expanding networks, acquiring spectrum and introducing new technologies, like 5G. The money required to pay -- punitive interest, penalty and interest on penalty -- which forms nearly 75 per cent of AGR dues, would have better served India's digital mission," Airtel said.
The setback is severe, particularly for VIL and Bharti Airtel, which had been seeking a waiver of penalties and interest. VIL Chairman K.M. Birla has said the company may have to stop operations if it doesn't receive any relief from the government.
VIL and Airtel have to pay Rs 53,039 crore and Rs 35,586 crore, respectively.
Tata Teleservices, which sold its consumer mobility business to Airtel but the deal is yet to get the Department of Telecom's (DoT) nod, faces Rs 13,823 crore in dues.
Some 15 telcos, including the three, need to pay over Rs 1.47 lakh crore to the government as was disclosed to Parliament by Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.