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Aircel Gets ₹751-Cr Relief; SC Directs Airtel, DoT To Pay Up

In a much-needed reprieve to Aircel, the Supreme Court on Tuesday directed Bharti Airtel to pay ₹453 crore immediately and the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) ₹298 crore to the operator. The payments, which relate to bank guarantees submitted by Aircel, if received soon, will be a lifeblood for the company to continue operations for some more time.

The Apex Court was hearing a contempt petition filed by Aircel employees, who had accused both Airtel and DoT of failing to repay a total of ₹751 crore.

The orders relate to bank guarantees held by DoT in relation to a spectrum transfer in 2016. Airtel’s payment of ₹453 crore is expected immediately as the deadline has expired, while DoT is expected to do by January-end or early February.

The Supreme Court directed Airtel to pay the amount “immediately”, stating that its orders earlier were “misinterpreted”. It repeated the two orders (January 9 and July 23, 2018) and directed these should be immediately acted upon, lawyers present in the court said.

The licensor (DoT) was holding about ₹751 crore as bank guarantees submitted when Aircel transferred its Broadband and Wireless Access (BWA) spectrum to Bharti Airtel in April 2016. Aircel had to pay DoT ₹298 crore in cash and ₹453 crore in bank guarantees (totalling ₹751 crore) as a pre-condition for clearing the spectrum transfer. These were arranged by Airtel, which was deducted from the consideration price of ₹3,500 crore.

Aircel had contested DoT’s demand for ₹751 crore before the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), which in a January 9, 2018, directed that the bank guarantees be released within four weeks. TDSAT permitted DoT to retain ₹298 crore till another issue was settled. – BusinessLine

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