Govt yet to seek legal opinion on AGR dues

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Updated: Dec 23, 2019 3:01 AM

While the approach towards telecom operators is understandable, to an extent, what’s perplexing is that the DoT has not sought any legal advice on non-telecom PSUs.

telecom sector, telecom industryWhile the telecom operators have filed a limited review petition in the Supreme Court seeking waiver of interest, penalty and interest on penalty, which comprises 75% of their dues, the non-telecom PSUs have not.

There’s just about a month left for telecom operators and non-telecom public sector undertakings to pay their adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues totalling more than `3 lakh crore, but the government is yet to take a legal view on the way forward.

According to the October 24 order of the Supreme Court the dues need to be paid by January 24, 2020.

Official sources confirmed to FE that the department of telecommunications (DoT) has so far not approached either the Attorney General or the Solicitor General seeking legal advice so as to be able to offer some relief to telcos which are required to pay Rs 1.47 lakh crore. “No legal opinion has been sought on the issue as of now,” the offices of AG and SG said.

While the approach towards telecom operators is understandable, to an extent, what’s perplexing is that the DoT has not sought any legal advice on non-telecom PSUs. These companies together need to pay over Rs 2 lakh crore either because they hold some form of a telecom licence or spectrum for a part of their operations.

While the telecom operators have filed a limited review petition in the Supreme Court seeking waiver of interest, penalty and interest on penalty, which comprises 75% of their dues, the non-telecom PSUs have not. However, firms like GAIL, PowerGrid and others have categorically told the DoT that they owe the government no money and do not intend to pay anything.

According to some officials, what is strange is that even the administrative ministries of the concerned PSUs have not taken up the issue with DoT, nor has there been a constitution of any kind of inter-ministerial body to tackle the issue.

On their part, the telecom operators have been making appeals to DoT for relief. Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal recently said he is hopeful that the government will provide some form of relief. Vodafone Idea chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla has categorically said since the government won the case, it is in the ideal position to take up the matter with the judiciary. Birla added that if no relief comes its way, Vodafone Idea would have no option but to shut shop.

“The big elephant in the room is AGR, which is actually I think something which lies in the court of judiciary. I believe the government can have a dialogue. This was a suit filed by the government against telecom service providers. Since the government has won, it gives them headroom to talk to the judiciary and try to find some solution. I don’t know which form or shape it takes,” Birla had said earlier this month.

Bharti Airtel, besides its limited review petition, has also filed a supplementary petition, urging the apex court to empower DoT to engage with the operators to discuss timelines and quantum of payment etc.

Even as such appeals have been made by the private telecom operators and strict ‘no dues hence no-payment’ stance has been adopted by the non-telecom PSUs, DoT — apart from sending notices to pay up the amount on time on self-assessment basis — has even followed up with reminder letters.

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