The telecom operators, Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel, missed the deadline given by the Supreme Court to pay the dues for the Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) issue on which it passed the verdict on October 24. The dues on each of these telecom operators were Rs 53,000 crore for Vodafone Idea and Rs 35,500 crore on Bharti Airtel. But, it seems that some of the organisations in India have not taken this as lightly and have termed the act of missing deadline for these operators as a deliberate attempt. As per an ET Telecom report, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) which represents the major telecom companies, Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea has also lashed out on this Public Interest Litigation (PIL) which has been termed as “motivated” and “mala fide interest” petition against the telecom industry. The PIL is against the Department of Telecommunication’s (DoT) stance of not taking any action on the telecom operators after they did not pay the dues on time. To recall, the telecom operators have been given leeway by the DoT after they missed the deadline of making payment for the AGR on the account that the Supreme Court decision on the matter is pending over a petition.
DoT Holds Back on Coercive Action
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has decided not to take any coercive action against the telecom companies. It is worth noting that in a normal scenario, the Department of Telecommunication would have sent show-cause notices to these telecom companies asking them why they have defaulted on the payment. However, that has not been the case right now because of an internal notification inside the DoT, after the finance wing decided not to do something like this. But, on Saturday, the Save Consumer Rights Foundation filed a PIL in the Supreme Court, asking to strike down the decision of the DoT to not take any action against the telecom companies.
The consumer body said that the DoT could have encased bank guarantees which are in its possession and could have also cancelled the licenses of the telcos who had failed to pay their dues. Rajan Matthews, the Director-General of COAI, said, “The fact that it (the petition) does not have any reference to the other companies — besides operators — that are also included in this matter, appears to show mala fide interest to create problems, rather than solving it.”
COAI Speculates Mala Fide Intentions Behind PIL
Matthews also pointed out that even the non-telecom companies have to pay these AGR dues, but they have not been named in the petition. If the analysts are to be believed then if Vodafone Idea is made to pay its dues, then it will likely have to be shut down. The telecom company’s chairman also expressed similar sentiments saying that Vodafone Idea might have to shut shop if no relief comes its way. On the other hand, Bharti Airtel along with VIL are waiting for the result of a hearing on a modification petition which the telecom companies had filed seeking some relief from the Supreme Court.
To recall, on October 24, the SC had passed the verdict on the AGR matter in favour of the government thus declaring that the definition of AGR would include non-core items as well. This has led to a situation where the telecom industry is under the burden of Rs 1.47 lakh crore of dues which are to be paid to the DoT.