Vodafone Idea, Jio and Airtel Paid Over Rs 10,000 Crore as Spectrum Dues

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Leading telcos Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio have paid the government over Rs 10,000 crore in spectrum dues slated for April 10, but debt-ridden Reliance Communications has so far not deposited its outstanding amount of Rs 492 crore, a source said. The payments are towards the latest instalment in deferred spectrum liability for radiowaves bought in the past auctions. The source privy to the development told PTI that the country's largest telecom operator Vodafone Idea has made payment of over Rs 6,277.1 crore to the Department of Telecom (DoT) towards its spectrum dues. The company, which has put in motion an Rs 25,000-crore rights issue, had paid Rs 3,042.7 crore to the department in March as part of a previous instalment.

While Bharti Airtel has made payment of Rs 2,745.8 crore and Reliance Jio paid Rs 1,109.1 crore, the embattled Reliance Communications has not yet made payment of about Rs 492 crore as on the due date. Typically, telecom companies are given a grace period of ten days after the due date by the DoT to make the stipulated payment.

Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio did not comment on emails sent to them. Reliance Communications too declined to comment on the issue, but an industry observer noted that RCom has repeatedly written to the DoT, seeking the return of excess bank guarantee encashment.

The next round of instalments for the operators is scheduled for September-October. The government, in March last year, enhanced the number of annual instalments for spectrum payment from 10 to 16 years to provide relief to the debt-laden telecom sector.

The industry argues that the sector has lost 42% revenue from sales of telecom services on a quarterly basis between April-June 2016 and July-September 2018. They have said the debt level on four mobile operators is at around Rs 5 lakh crore, and 60% of the liability is from spectrum payment obligations.

Vodafone Idea has earlier sought two-year moratorium on annual spectrum payment of over Rs 10,000 crore, citing high debt levels and stress on the balance sheet. In all, the amount to be paid by Vodafone Idea is estimated to be around Rs 11,900 crore this year, spread over multiple instalments through the year.

The company - formed from the merger of Vodafone and Idea Cellular - has embarked on a massive fundraising drive - Vodafone Idea's Rs 25,000 crore rights issue opened Wednesday, and the telecom operator is offering 2,000 crore shares at a price of Rs 12.50 a share. The rights issue will close on April 24, 2019.

Bharti Airtel too has received market regulator Sebi's approval to raise up to Rs 25,000 crore through rights issue.

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