DoT snuffs out all hopes of telcos

Updated: Feb 15, 2020, 08:21 IST | Agencies | New Delhi

Gives the firms only a few hours to pay the adjusted gross revenue; SC threatens contempt proceedings against Airtel, Vodafone, other telecom firms for non-compliance of its order

Shares of Vodafone Idea, which owes about R53,000 crore to the DoT, tumbles nearly 19 per cent. Pic/AFP
Shares of Vodafone Idea, which owes about R53,000 crore to the DoT, tumbles nearly 19 per cent. Pic/AFP

New Delhi: After Supreme Court rap, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has ordered firms 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 asked telcos to clear dues by 11.59 pm on Friday. 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 R1.47 lakh crore — R92,642 crore in unpaid licence fee and another R55,054 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.

Bharti Airtel has offered to pay R10,000 crore of the R55,000 crore by February 20 and the rest before the next date of hearing. Earlier in the day, the DoT withdrew its order that asked for no coercive action against telecom companies defaulting on statutory dues payment. The SC on Friday threatened contempt proceedings against top executives of Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and other telecom firms for failing to comply with its directive to pay the dues. It asked them to clear dues before the next date of hearing on March 17.

In an order which will have a far-reaching implications for the telecom sector, the apex court expressed displeasure at the "temerity" of a desk officer in the Department of Telecom for "scuttling" its order by issuing a written directive to not take any coercive action against firms for not depositing dues by the January 23, 2020, deadline. "How can a desk officer do this to the SC's order. Is this the law of the country. Is this the way you treat the courts," the three-member bench said.

Justice Arun Mishra, who was heading the bench, said, "We don't know who is creating this nonsense. Who is generating all this? Is there no law left in the country? I am literally anguished. I feel I should not work in this court and in this system. I am saying this with full sense of responsibility." Solicitor General Tushar Mehta tendered an apology before the bench also comprising Justice S Abdul Nazeer and Justice M R Shah, and said the desk officer cannot do this. The SC has asked the desk officer of DoT to explain why appropriate action should not be taken against him for his act.

Rs 1.47 lakh cr
Total Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) 15 firms owe DoT

'Risk of duopoly higher than before'

Situation for Vodafone Idea is "particularly vulnerable" and the risk of duopoly in the sector is higher than before, said an analyst. "There is no question that this is bad news for the telecom industry," Mahesh Uppal, director at consulting firm Com First India said.

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