Supreme Court dismisses plea of telcos seeking review of verdict on recovery of past dues

Supreme Court dismissed review petitions of top telecom firms

A bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, S A Nazeer and M R Shah in-chamber did not find merit in the review plea and dismissed it. Not finding any justifiable reason, the Supreme Court dismissed review petitions of top telecom firms including Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea seeking review of its earlier order asking them to pay Rs. 1, 47,000 crores in past statutory dues by January 23.

Prior Facts:

Bharti Airtel, in its plea, had sought review of the directions on aspects of levy of interest, penalty and interest on penalty relating to AGR. 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 crores as licence fee to the government and dues from Vodafone totalled Rs. 19,823.71 crores, while Reliance Communications owed Rs. 16,456.47 crores. BSNL owed Rs. 2,098.72 crores, and MTNL Rs. 2,537.48 crores. Holding that interest and penalty have rightly been levied on the telecom companies, the apex court had made it clear that there would be no further litigation on the issue and it would fix a time-frame for calculation and payment of dues by the telecom companies.

Key Features:

  • The petitions in their petitions had sought for an open hearing.
  • The open court and oral hearing was rejected by the Bench of the SC.
  • The Court not accepting for open court decided to stick to its conventional manner of proceeding in-chamber.
  • The reason for rejecting including no merit in the case.
  • The bench determined the issue with due care to the related persons and found no need for further changes.
  • The Court on Oct 24 last year also rejected the same the definition of AGR as formulated by Department of Telecom (Dot) and termed the petition as “frivolous”.

Judgement:

The Court holding that interest and penalty have rightly been levied on the telecom companies, made it clear that there would be no further litigation on the issue and it would fix a time-frame for calculation and payment of dues by the telecom companies.

Response after Judgement:

An Airtel spokesperson in a statement after the Supreme Court’s dismissal said, “While respecting the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s decision, we would like to express our disappointment as we believe the long standing disputes raised regarding the AGR definition were bonafide and genuine. The industry continues to face severe financial stress and the outcome could further erode the viability of the sector as a whole. The industry needs to continue to invest in expanding networks, acquiring spectrum and introducing New Technologies like 5G. The money now required to pay punitive interest, penalty and interest on penalty which forms nearly 75 percent of AGR dues would have better served the digital mission of the country.  We are evaluating filing a curative petition.”

Airtel said the industry needs to continue investing in expanding networks, acquiring spectrum and introducing new technology such as 5G. “The money now required to pay punitive interest, penalty and interest on penalty, which forms nearly 75 per cent of AGR dues, would have better served the digital mission of the country,” it added.

In a stock exchange filing, Vodafone-Idea said: “The Company is exploring further options, including filing of a curative petition.”

The Cellular Operators Association of India said the latest order is the ‘last straw in contributing to financial distress and it remains to be seen whether the industry will be able to recover from this setback’.

Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chairman, Vodafone-Idea, had also recently said that Vodafone may have to shut shop if the government does not agree to provide relief in the AGR case.

Edited by J. Madonna Jephi

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje

 

 

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Vaibhav Goyal is a 3rd year BA.LLB (H) student of UILS, Panjab University, Chandigarh, India. He also basically belongs to the “City Beautiful-Chandigarh”. He had interned and have work experience at various Central and State Government bodies of India including the National Human Rights Commission, New Delhi; the Central Information Commission, New Delhi; U.T. Legal Services Authority, Chandigarh, etc. His research projects includes the study on the Right to Emergency Services (PSHRC), Resettlement of Migrant People (NHRC), Implications of RTI in Financial Institutions (CIC), etc. His publications involve articles in different fields of law like administrative, jurisprudence, etc. on online journals including the Juscholars Blog, Burnished Law Journal, etc. His research paper on Prison Reform was published in the Panjab University Journal and his paper was selected in category of best abstract on the topic of Naxalism: A State of Lawlessness and Arbitrariness. He had scored well in various competitions of law consisting of Quiz, Essay Writing, Lecture, Declamation, etc. He had also participated in various conferences including the World Law Forum Conference on Strategic Lawsuits on Public Participation held in New Delhi on Oct 20, 2018 and the National Law Conclave 2020 held at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi on Jan 11, 2020.