Currently, the biggest problem that the telecom operators in the industry seem to be facing is related to the dues that they have to pay to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) in the name of the new Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) decision from the Supreme Court. Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea are the worst hit telecom operators in this regard as they have to pay the most dues. However, in an attempt to find a way out of this situation, according to an ET report, Bharti Airtel has moved Supreme Court to allow the telecom operator and the government agree on quantum of adjusted gross revenue. It is worth noting that Bharti Airtel has already filed a review petition with the SC over the matter of AGR decision. But, following this move, the Sunil Bharti Mittal led telco has also filed an application in the apex court to seek a modification of the court’s order of October 24 to permit Airtel and the government to ascertain the amount to be paid and “a mutually acceptable basis for the discharge of the same” over an agreed period of time.
Airtel Still Seeking Some Relief
As per the lawyers, Bharti Airtel is seeking some legal pathway to discuss options with the government regarding the AGR dues to dampen the effect of the blow which its balance sheets have suffered after the declaration of the new dues from the DoT. To recall, the telecom operators were expecting some kind of relief from the government in addition to the two years payment moratorium which has been given to the telcos. However, that relief has been scrapped off from the agenda, and the telcos will not get ant kind of tax benefits or reduction in the license or spectrum fee. Now the government has also said that it cannot provide relief to the telecom operators on the AGR issue unless there is an order from the SC.
As per the current calculations of the government, Bharti Airtel has to pay Rs 35,500 crore in dues which include license fees, spectrum fee, interest and penalties. As per the ministry, the government is still updating its figures so that could mean that the actual amount of dues which Bharti Airtel might have to pay could be more than what it presently stands at.
Grim Situation of the Telecom Operators
The telecom operator had posted a loss of Rs 23,000 crore in the quarter ending September on account of the AGR dues. Bharti Airtel has also said that its ability to continue as going concern might be threatened if it does not receive any help from the government over the AGR issue. The telecom operators have been given three months as payment deadlines for these AGR dues. Also, Airtel has filed a limited review plea in the SC to reconsider the interests and penalties and interest on penalties, which make up a large chunk of the total dues, specifically 75%.
On the other hand, Vodafone Idea is in an even worse situation as it faces dues of Rs 53,000 crore, much more than that of Bharti Airtel. To recall, in its October 24 order, the Supreme Court had agreed with DoT on the definition of the AGR, which said that the AGR would include non-core services as well, and not only core services. This has led to an increase in the license fees and the Spectrum Usage Charges (SUC), which are calculated based on the AGR.