Even as the Supreme Court of India takes up for review its earlier landmark judgement of October 24, which has shaken the telecom sector to the core, the appellants,
Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea have made a plea that the hearings of their review petitions of the Supreme Court AGR ruling be conducted in open court.
The judges on the SC bench, headed by Justice Arun Mishra, have said they will have to check with the Chief Justice on this before they give their consent to the plea, reports PTI.
The dispute relates to the claim by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) that the telecom licence holders pay their dues on spectrum usage charges and licence fees calculated on the total revenue (adjusted gross revenue or AGR) of the entity in whose name the licence stands irrespective of whether the income has been derived from telecom operations or otherwise.
The total amount for which the demand notices have been issued to the various telecom operators, if they pay up in full, will yield a revenue of Rs 1.47 lakh crore to the DoT/government.
However, given the market scenario and the financial health of telcos, the companies have now approached the Supreme Court with the fervent hope that they may get some relief from the court towards paying penalty, interest and interest on penalty.
Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had told Parliament in November that Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and other telecom companies owe the government as much as Rs 1.47 lakh crore in past statutory dues.
He had added that there is no proposal at present to waive interest and penalties on such dues.
In replies to separate questions in the Lok Sabha, Prasad had 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 an affidavit filed earlier in the top court, the DoT said Airtel owed Rs 21,682.13 crore as licence fee to the government and dues from Vodafone totalled Rs 19,823.71 crore, while Reliance Communications owed Rs 16,456.47 crore. BSNL owed Rs 2,098.72 crore, and MTNL Rs 2,537.48 crore.
Bharti Airtel is currently trying to raise funds through private placement of equity as well as raising debt to make the payment before January 24, the three-month deadline given by the SC. Vodafone Idea may not even be able to raise such debts in the market for this purpose. The stand taken by the SC will be crucial for the companies.