SC reserves order on Airtel, Voda-Idea plea – The Hindu BusinessLine

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Telecom majors say that they have paid more than their expected instalment

The Supreme Court, on Monday, reserved orders on pleas made by major telecoms such as Voda-Idea and Airtel for a chance to place their grievances about arithmetical errors in Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) dues before the Department of Telecom (DoT).

In a September 2020 judgment, the apex court had said that the annual 10 per cent instalments will commence from April 1, 2021, up to March 31, 2031.

Have paid more

Airtel, Voda-Idea and Tata were among some of the companies who assured the court on Monday that they have paid more than their expected instalment.

However, at the beginning of the hearing, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, for Voda-Idea, complained about the arithmetical errors in the calculation of AGR dues.

“If I have paid ₹1, only 50 paisa is reflected… In one entry, the actual payment made is ₹155 crore, payment shown in DoT is ₹153 crore,” Rohatgi submitted.

However, the Bench reminded the telecoms about the express bar imposed by the Supreme Court on the re-assessment of AGR dues.

“The Supreme Court has said not just once, but twice and thrice that the amounts cannot be recomputed,” the Bench addressed Rohatgi.

“The figure is not cast in stone. The court has power to correct arithmetical errors. My dues are ₹58,000 crore. We are about to go under. Our debts are ₹1.8-lakh crore. Let us place our calculations before DoT, let them take a call,” Rohatgi urged.

Senior advocate AM Singhvi, for Airtel, echoed Rohatgi’s submission for a chance to place the calculations before the DoT.

“We are only asking for these issues to be considered by DoT. We don’t want to pay thousands of crores on account of these errors,” Singhvi submitted.

Senior advocate Arvind Datar, for Tata, said they were not seeking a recomputation of their dues, but only an opportunity with DoT to rectify certain mistakes in calculation.

“The judgments prohibits only re-assessment…We cannot have a second or third bite at the cherry, but like any tax or fee, AGR has to be in accordance with law,” he submitted.

A 20-year formula

In September last year, the court had allowed telecom companies 10 years’ time to pay their Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) dues to the government. The government had initially proposed a 20-year formula for telcoms to make staggered payments of the dues. The dues had run to ₹1.43-lakh crore at that time.

An earlier October 24, 2019, judgment of the court in the AGR case had originally wanted the telcoms to make their repayments in three months.

The court, in its September 2020 judgment, had also referred to the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) a series of questions on whether “deferred/default payment instalments of spectrum acquisition cost can be termed to be operational dues besides AGR dues”.

The court had wanted the tribunal to decide whether a scarce natural resource like spectrum could be used without payment of requisite dues.

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