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SC breather for telcos

The telecom players had been under pressure to look for options to meet the January 23 deadline

By Our Special Correspondent in New Delhi

  • Published 22.01.20, 12:41 AM
  • Updated 22.01.20, 12:41 AM
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court (iStock)

The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to list next week the pleas of Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel, who are seeking a fresh schedule for the payment of statutory dues worth Rs 1.47 lakh crore to the department of telecom. The move came as a breather to the operators who have been under pressure to meet the January 23 deadline to pay up their dues.

A bench, headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, took note of the submissions by a battery of senior lawyers, including A.M. Singhvi and C.A. Sundaram, and said it would list the fresh pleas “sometime next week” before the same bench which had heard the earlier petition.

After the dismissal of the review plea last week, the telecom players had been under pressure to look for options to meet the January 23 deadline — the three-month time given by the Supreme Court in its October order.

“We are not disputing the payment to be made by us, rather we want a fresh schedule of payment to be worked out,” Sundaram told the bench, which also comprised justices S.A. Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna.

Legal experts said though the court did not pass any order or make any observation on the statutory payments, it can be assumed that no coercive action will be taken against the companies till the matter is decided.

Stocks soar

The breather lifted the mood on the bourses, with shares of Vodafone Idea zooming over 24 per cent to Rs 6.04 during the day. Later, the stock shed some of its gains to settle at Rs 5.92, up 21.18 per cent over its previous close on the BSE.

On the NSE, the scrip rose as much as 24.74 per cent to Rs 6.05 before closing at Rs 5.95, up 22.68 per cent.

The Bharti Airtel stock ended marginally up by 0.41 per cent to Rs 511.35 on the BSE. On the NSE, the scrip lost 0.07 per cent to close at Rs 508.35.

The telcos said they wanted an open-court hearing on their fresh pleas with regard to working out a fresh schedule for the payment of their dues. “That (open court or in-chamber hearing) will be decided by the bench concerned,” the CJI said.

Earlier, on January 16, a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra had dismissed the review petitions of telecom firms seeking a review of its earlier order asking them to pay their dues by January 23, saying it did not find any “justifiable reason” to entertain them.

Vodafone Idea and Airtel are worst hit by the top court’s order on adjusted gross revenue (AGR), facing statutory dues of Rs 53,039 crore and Rs 35,586 crore, respectively. Tata Teleservices, which has sold its consumer mobility business to Airtel, faces dues of Rs 13,823 crore. Including the three, around 15 telecom players need to pay over Rs 1.47 lakh crore to the government.

While the government had raised a demand of Rs 92,000 crore from Airtel, Vodafone Idea and many now-defunct telecom operators in licence fees based on revised revenue definitions, the actual payout will be around Rs 1.4 lakh crore after including spectrum usage charges, penalty and interest, officials said.

Vodafone Idea chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla had had earlier said the company might have to shut down its India operations if there was no relief even as he had indicated that the promoters had no intentions of raising any fresh capital to meet the dues.

Observers say Bharti Airtel is in a better position as it has raised $3 billion through QIP and foreign currency convertible bonds recently.