‘Pay Rs 92,000 Cr By Midnight’: Centre Orders Telecom Firms After SC Rap

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NEW DELHI – After Supreme Court rap, the telecom department began issuing orders, directing companies such as Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea to clear dues before Friday mid­night.

The DoT, which faced the ire of the Supreme Court for putting on hold recovery of dues from telecom companies, started issuing circle or zone-wise demand notices to firms, an order seen by PTI said.

The order issued on Friday by the UP (West) Telecom Circle asked “all telecom service providers” to clear dues by 11.59 pm Friday.

“With reference to subject cited above, you are hereby directed to make the payment of outstanding dues of licence fee and spectrum us­age charges by 14.02.2020, 11:59 PM positively,” it said.One of the telecom operators, who did not wish to be named, confirmed the receipt of the said order from the circle.

While in all, 15 entities owe the government Rs 1.47 lakh crore — Rs 92,642 crore in unpaid licence fee and another Rs 55,054 crore in out­standing spectrum usage charges, it is not immediately clear just how much of that has been sought by the government by midnight tonight.

The order issued the circle-based Controller of Communication Ac­counts came after the telecom de­partment earlier on Friday withdrew its order that asked for no coercive action against telecom companies defaulting on statutory dues pay­ment. The circular was withdrawn by the telecom department imme­diately after the Supreme Court took a strong view of non-compliance in payment of dues by telecom com­panies. The DoT order issued to its field offices subsequently had asked for “immediate necessary action” in compliance with the October judg­ment of the Supreme Court. The di­rection by the DoT had said its pre­vious order dated January 23, 2020 “stands withdrawn with immediate effect”.”It is directed to take immedi­ate necessary action in compliance with the judgement dated October 24, 2019 of the Supreme Court,” said the fresh order issued by the DoT.

The Supreme Court on Friday di­rected the managing directors and directors of telcos and other firms to explain why contempt action be not taken against them for non-compli­ance of its order to pay adjusted gross revenue (AGR) of Rs 1.47 lakh crore to the Department of Telecommunica­tions.

Taking strong note of the non-com­pliance of its order, a bench of Justice Arun Mishra, Justice S Abdul Nazeer and Justice M R Shah expressed an­guish over the order passed by DoT’s desk officer, staying the effect of its verdict in AGR matter.

Of the three private players oper­ating in the Indian telecom market, Vodafone Idea is considered to be in the most vulnerable position.

Vodafone Idea is staring at dues worth Rs 53,000 crore that includes up to Rs 24,729 crore of spectrum dues and another Rs 28,309 crore in licence fee, and the company had earlier warned of shutdown if no re­lief was given. Vodafone Idea in its earnings statement on Thursday had also sounded out warnings on “ma­terial uncertainty” casting “signifi­cant doubt” on its ability to continue as a going concern. VIL had said on Thursday that the company’s abil­ity to continue as a going concern is essentially dependent on a positive outcome of its modification applica­tion in the Supreme Court on the AGR matter and any relief from the tele­com department on payments.

Last week, Vodafone Chief Execu­tive Officer Nick Read had said the situation in India is critical, follow­ing the AGR ruling of the Supreme Court. The British telecom major holds 45.39 per cent stake in VIL.

VIL had suffered staggering Rs 50,922 crore loss in the September quarter (highest ever loss posted by any Indian corporate), when it had made provisions for statutory dues following the Supreme Court’s order in the adjusted gross revenue mat­ter, although its losses in December quarter narrowed to Rs 6,439 crore.

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