Govt's plea for allowing operators to pay dues over a 20-year period to be taken up after two weeks.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday came down heavily on the department of telecommunications (DoT) as well as the telecom operators on the matter of payment of adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues. While the court pulled up the DoT for not taking its consent before asking the operators to pay the dues on the basis of self-assessment exercise, it slammed the companies for approaching the media for frequently getting articles published to influence the bench’s decisions.
Ruling out any self-assessment exercise by the companies with regard to their dues, it said, “no self-assessment or re-assessment of AGR dues needs to be done by telecom companies” and if done “they will be held in contempt”. The apex court said that the “judgment on AGR dues is full and final and it should be followed in letter and spirit”.
On the DoT’s plea to allow the companies to pay their dues in a staggered manner spread over a 20-year period, with interest, penalty and penalty on interest, frozen on the date of the judgment (October 24, 2019), a discount rate of 8% interest; the SC termed it unreasonable and refused to take it up but later said it would consider it at the next hearing after two weeks.
“Where did the concept of self-assessment come in? Who permitted self-assessment without permission of the court? This is sheer contempt of court,” Justice Arun Mishra, who headed the bench, said. The bench, which also comprised Justices A Abdul Nazeer and MR Shah, further added that the DoT demand was confirmed by the court and self-assessment cannot be allowed when “our order clearly spells out the dues”. “Dues have been finalised by the court, no backtracking can be allowed for that. Are we fools? Can’t we understand what’s happening?” Justice Mishra said. “Bills were raised. CAG audit has been done, then who permitted this? How can there be self-assessment or re-assessment of dues? If a reassessment is permitted it will be a fraud on this court,” he said.
When the Vodafone Idea counsel told the court that the company is not seeking re-computation but the DoT had made some errors in calculation and licence fee was charged twice in some places, Justice Mishra said, “This is not the question of error, process contempt has been committed. Error cannot be of thousands of crores.”
He further observed that companies were “trying to influence the court through the media”. “This is tantamount to seeking a review of our judgment. Please summon the DoT officials responsible for self-assessment. Withdraw the DoT move to allow self-assessment. There can be no further exercise regarding the dues payable,” he added.
“Won’t tolerate this. Companies want to hoodwink us. If required we will summon the MDs of all the telcos. Telcos are the usurpers of public money and don’t even want to pay a fraction of revenue earned,” Justice Mishra stated.
Expressing anger at the DoT for allowing the companies to undertake the self-assessment exercise to compute their dues, the court said it may summon DoT secretary and the desk officer who permitted the operators to do so.
After the apex court’s October 24, 2019 order asking the companies to pay their dues, the DoT had sent notices to all the companies to pay the amount based on self-assessment. Consequently, the operators came out with amounts which were much lower than that were calculated by DoT.