Supreme Court dismisses review pleas by telecom companies to review AGR judgment

Airtel, Vodafone Idea, among others are supposed to pay a total of Rs 92,000 crore in AGR dues by January 23.
Supreme Court dismisses review pleas by telecom companies to review AGR judgment
Supreme Court dismisses review pleas by telecom companies to review AGR judgment
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The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected the review pleas of telecom companies seeking a review of the court’s verdict on the matter of Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR). The matter was taken up in-chambers. The verdict was delivered in October, following which telecom companies such as Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea showed record losses in the books. The are supposed to pay Rs 92,000 crore in dues by January 23.

In the in-chamber review, the petitions are circulated among the judges on the bench and there is no lawyer to argue the matter. The top court earlier upheld the interpretation of the Department of Telecommunications of Adjusted Gross Revenue, as part of which various companies owe Rs 92,000 crore to the Centre. 

AGR was a 14-year-long battle, which culminated in October 2019. The problem originated when telecom operators migrated to a new system offered by the government in 1999, 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. It is because of this that Rs 92,000 crore is owed in dues to the government. 

The verdict was a blow to the telecom industry, which was grappling with shrinking revenues, growing debt and competition. All three major telecom companies also raised their charges following this.

Vodafone Idea had posted a net loss of Rs 50,921 crore for that quarter, the largest quarterly loss in India’s corporate history. Airtel had posted a net loss of Rs 23,045 crore.

Vodafone Idea’s AGR liability is Rs 44,200 crore and Airtel has Rs 35,500 crore in dues.

Even prior to the verdict, both companies raised funds to meet the liabilities. While Airtel has raised $3 billion in debt and equity, Vodafone Idea tweaked its Rights Issue proceeds clause to be able to use the funds to partly meet the statutory dues.  

According to CNBCTV18, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that public service undertakings such as CAIL, IOC and Power Grid will be filing fresh review pleas. 

Similarly, Airtel said that it is evaluating filing a curative petition in the case. A curative petition is the final remedy available after a review petition has been dismissed by the apex court.

In a statement, Airtel expressed its disappointment as they believed that “the long standing disputes raised regarding the AGR definition were bonafide and genuine”.

“The money now required to pay punitive interest, penalty and interest on penalty which forms nearly 75% of AGR dues would have better served the digital mission of the country,” it further added.

With IANS inputs

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