The top court has ordered the managing directors of Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea, MTNL, BSNL, Reliance Communications, Tata Telecommunication and others to be present in the court on March 17.

news Court Friday, February 14, 2020 - 12:26

In a major blow to the ailing telecom companies, the Supreme Court on Friday directed the managing directors and directors of telcos and other firms to explain why contempt action be not taken against them for non-compliance of its order to pay adjusted gross revenue (AGR) of Rs 1.47 lakh crore to the Department of Telecommunications.

Taking strong note of the non-compliance of its order, a bench of Justice Arun Mishra, Justice S Abdul Nazeer and Justice MR Shah expressed anguish over the order passed by DoT's desk officer staying the effect of its verdict in AGR matter. The top court has ordered the managing directors of Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, MTNL, BSNL, Reliance Communications, Tata Telecommunication and others to be present in the court on March 17.

"We don't know who is creating this nonsense. Is there no law left in country... It is better not to live in this country and rather leave the country," the bench observed.

The top court objected to a desk officer writing a letter to the Attorney General and other constitutional authorities saying they should not insist on payment of money by telcos and others and to ensure that no coercive action is taken against them. The top court directed the Centre to immediately withdraw order passed by its desk officer to not take coercive action against the telecom companies. The top court warned that this officer was liable to a jail term if that order was not withdrawn within an hour.

Justice Mishra also added that the telecom companies haven't even paid a single penny and the government officer wants a stay on the order.

On January 16, Justice Mishra-led bench had dismissed review petitions of telcos seeking review of its earlier order asking them to pay Rs 1.47 lakh crore in statutory dues by January 23, saying it did not find any "justifiable reason" to entertain them.

The top court had on October 24 last year ruled that the statutory dues needed to be calculated by including non-telecom revenues in AGR of telcos.

The AGR issue originated in 1999, when telecom operators migrated to a new system offered by the government under which they agreed to share a certain percentage of revenue with the government. Operators argued that AGR should comprise only revenue from telecom services, but the DoT insisted that it should include all revenue earned by an operator. Accounting for this, Vodafone Idea incurred the largest quarterly loss in India’s corporate history. 

Since then, the Supreme Court has rejected the review plea filed by telecom operators. They have now approached the court to sit down with the Department of Telecommunications and figure out a payment plan.

(With inputs from agencies)