DoT issues fresh letter to telcos after Supreme Court rap on AGR dues payment; says no self-assessment to be considered

A day after the Supreme Court lashed out at the Department of Telecom (DoT) and telcos for self-assessing their outstanding AGR dues, the DoT reportedly issued a fresh letter the telecom companies on Thursday, said a news report.

The DoT in a fresh notice to the telcos after the Supreme Court order said that no self-assessment of aggregated gross revenues (AGR) dues would be considered, reported CNBC TV18.

It further said that AGR dues calculated by the DoT and submitted to the court would be considered.

 DoT issues fresh letter to telcos after Supreme Court rap on AGR dues payment; says no self-assessment to be considered

Representational image. Reuters.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court lashed out at Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and other mobile phone operators for self-assessing their outstanding telecom dues, saying they need to pay past dues with interest and penalty -- an estimated amount of Rs 1.6 lakh crore.

The apex court also came down heavily on the DoT for allowing companies to re-assess what they owed to the government, and said its order -- passed on 24 October 2019 -- on revenues for calculating dues was final.

A three-judge bench, headed by Justice Arun Mishra, said it would consider the government's rescue plan of giving telcos 20-year time to make the payments during the next hearing scheduled after two weeks.

"Exercise of self-assessment of AGR dues by telecom companies cannot be permitted even in wildest dreams. Withdraw forthwith any such orders which been passed," it said, adding that "this is sheer fraud".

The top court said, "If we are to be very harsh, then all the MDs (Managing Directors) will be called here and sent straight to jail for contempt. They want self-assessment and commit fraud upon the public exchequer."

The apex court observed that through newspaper articles, do they want to show that they are very powerful.

"Article are being published that economy will go here and there. They are fooling people by fake news. Truth must come out," the court said.

The bench questioned DoT for allowing self-assessment of the AGR by companies, saying, "we are of the conclusive opinion that no such self-assessment or reassessment exercise shall be undertaken".

"Who has permitted this self-assessment? From where this concept of self-assessment has come up?. Who is allowing all this?. This is a sheer contempt. We have already said that no objection will be entertained on the dues.

"Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) audit has been done on the dues. It is there in our judgment then from where this concept has come out," the bench said while pulling up the Centre and the telecom firms," the court said.

The court told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Centre, that it was a "question of prestige", that telecom companies are hoodwinking and they have earned money all these years on the resources since 2001 and now they have to pay the dues as settled by the apex court.

"This is public money. The government has given them resources from which they earned money.

"Your (Centre) department has given them leverage and your officers have written to them for self-assessment of AGR. We will haul those officers for contempt. Everything was before us and we heard them for months and settled for the figure of dues. The government then had fought tooth and nail for interest and penalties," the bench said.

Mehta tried to intervene and said the Cabinet has taken a decision and according to the proposal, the interest of AGR would be frozen and that amount would be paid gradually.

"If that is the case, then will test everything and will analyse how much these companies have earned over the years, how much was the dues and how much they have paid. Do you want that? Someone is trying to subterfuge our judgment. If this self-assessment is permitted, then it will be a more serious fraud on the public," the top court said.

Senior advocates Mukul Rohtagi and AM Singhvi, appearing for Vodafone and Bharti Airtel, respectively, said that no one is saying that they would not comply with the verdict but there are some errors which needs to be corrected.

The Supreme Court will hear the plea by the solicitor general on staggard payment in two weeks.

Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Tata Group's self-assessed dues to the government are a whopping Rs 82,300 crore, which is short of what DoT calculated after the Supreme Court's 24 October ruling on the AGR.

In its submission before the apex court seeking relief in payment tenure, DoT had pegged Bharti Airtel's dues at Rs 43,980 crore, Vodafone Idea at Rs 58,254 crore and Tata Group at Rs 16,798 crore.

Against these amounts, Bharti self-assessed its dues at Rs 13,004 crore and paid a total of Rs 18,000 crore, including Rs 5,000 crore towards reconciling any difference. Vodafone Idea assessed its dues at Rs 21,533 crore and paid Rs 6,854 crore. Tata Group of companies self-assessed their dues at Rs 2,197 crore.

The remaining of the Rs 1.6 lakh crore dues pertain to firms that are in bankruptcy or have already closed down.

The court had on 24 October last year ordered that non-telecom revenues should be included in the AGR for calculating statutory dues such as license fee and spectrum charges.

The DoT calculated that Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and others owe as much as Rs 1.47 lakh crore in past dues, including penalties and interest, while non-telecom firms, who had taken some licence from it, owed another Rs 2.65 lakh crore.

On 16 January this year, a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra dismissed petitions of telecom firms seeking review of that order saying it did not find any "justifiable reason" to entertain them.

-- With PTI inputs

Updated Date: Mar 19, 2020 13:12:32 IST

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