The Department of Telecommunications is reportedly planning to send out letters to telecom companies reminding them to pay up the Rs 1.47 lakh crore in AGR dues that need to be paid by January 23, as per a Business Standard report. And that is if the industry’s plea on the AGR issue is not taken up by the Supreme Court this week.
From the telecom operator’s perspective, they had not said they would not pay. They said they will abide by the SC verdict. However, they did go back to the apex court for a review which got rejected. They are still hoping that the Supreme Court will listen to their plea that the time given to make the payment be extended.
Of the 15 companies covered in the order, there are only three currently operational, Reliance Jio, Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel. The amount payable by Jio was quite small and the company has settled it. The Supreme Court had then given the companies three months to settle the amount, which expired on January 23, 2020.
DoT has said it will not resort to any coercive action against the companies. At the same time, the government does not want the companies to take undue advantage of the soft approach adopted by DoT.
There were news reports that Bharti Airtel had even roped in a source to raise the funds required to be paid to DoT. Vodafone Idea is the worst hit.
There is some confusion among experts on how the government’s finances will look if it fails to receive the Rs 1.47 lakh crore in its kitty by March 31, 2020. The next year’s (2020-21) budget estimates include a figure of Rs 1.33 lakh crore revenue from telecommunications. Does this figure represent the AGR dues or is it spectrum auction revenue? It is not clear.
The telecom industry body, the Cellular Operators Association of India is still in denial mode. It says components of AGR which govt was trying to include were in contravention of the Telegraph Act and the recommendations of telecom regulator.