One-time spectrum fee: SC rejects Centre’s plea

By: | Published: January 20, 2015 3:56 AM

Supreme Court on Monday refused to transfer to itself various petitions filed by telecom companies challenging levy of one-time spectrum charge...

In a major setback to the government, the Supreme Court on Monday refused to transfer to itself various petitions filed by telecom companies challenging levy of one-time spectrum charge in different high courts and the sectoral tribunal to the top court.

Solicitor general Ranjit Kumar argued that the question of law in all the petitions is “identical” and “if these petitions are not heard together, it will lead to a multiplicity of litigation and decision on the same issue across various forums and the various HCs and the TDSAT could render contrary decisions.”

The ministry of communications & information technology in its transfer petition said that telecom companies have filed petitions in different HCs “as a delaying tactic” and it is “nothing but an exercise of forum shopping in order to avoid the payment of one time spectrum charges.”

The government also wanted transfer of various other petitions filed by private cellular operators before different fora over the issue of what constitutes components of adjusted gross revenue for calculating licence fee. There are differences over what constitutes AGR on which annual licence fee be charged. Service providers say that income from telecom services only (excluding other income like interest on savings, dividends, bundling of handsets and others) should not be considered for the purpose. On the other hand, the DoT takes total income of the firm as an AGR.

However, a bench headed by Chief Justice HL Dattu dismissed as withdrawn the batch of government’s transfer pleas.

The DoT had issued two orders on December 28, 2012 and March 15, 2013 asking various telecom firms to pay one-time spectrum charge for holding additional spectrum above 4.4 MHz (GSM) and above 2.5 MHz (CDMA) based on market determined price decided in auction. Pursuant to the decision to levy one time spectrum charges, demands aggregating to Rs 26,195.67 crore (Rs 2418 crore for CDMA operators, Rs 13060.09 crore for GSM operators and Rs 10117.57 crore by PSUs) have been issued to the various telecom service providers.

The department had issued a demand notice of Rs 1152.68 crore to Tata Tele Ltd, Rs 5,201.24 crore to Bharti Airtel, Rs 3,599.40 crore to Vodafone, Rs 1,882 crore to Idea Cellular, Rs 1,351.51 crore to Aircel, Rs 1157.89 crore to Reliance Communications and Rs 173.47 to Reliance Telecom. Besides, BSNL was asked to pay Rs 6,911.86 crore and MTNL Rs 3,313.15 crore. Rs 606.72 crore was to be paid by BPL, Rs 14.25 crore by Dishnet and Rs 231.50 crore by Spice (old).

While Bharti Airtel, Idea and Tata Teleservices Maharashtra Ltd had approached the Bombay High Court, Aircel Cellular, Aircel Ltd and Dishnet Wireless Ltd had moved the Madras High Court and Reliance Telecom, Tata Tele and Reliance Communication had approached the Calcutta High Court. Mobile Services Ltd and Loop Mobile (India) had challenged the DoT order in the TSDAT.

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