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COAI Asks Government For Grant Three-Year Moratorium To Pay All Dues

The government should grant telecom companies a three-year moratorium followed by an extended timeline for payment of all statutory dues at easier interest rates, as the telecom sector is reeling under massive losses after the Supreme Court ruling on adjusted gross revenue liabilities, Cellular Operators Association of India said on Monday.

COAI Director General Rajan Mathews told PTI that operators need “oxygen” and urged the government to take a call on debt restructuring of all the dues that telecom operators owe to the government.

Mathews said most 4G licences have 11-year validity left, and that the government could pack in another 10 years, thus allowing operators to pay back all the outstanding dues spread over the entire licence period.

“It is also time to redefine AGR (adjusted gross revenue) prospectively,” Mathews said.

The telecom industry has been haemorrhaging, with combined losses of listed mobile network firms surpassing Rs 1 lakh crore in the September-ended quarter.

Last week, India’s two leading telecom operators Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel reported a combined loss of Rs 74,000 crore for the second quarter ended September 2019, mainly on account of statutory dues arising from the recent Supreme Court order on AGR.

The apex court upheld the government’s position of including revenue from non-telecommunication businesses in calculating the annual AGR of telecom companies, a share of which has to be paid as licence and spectrum fee to the exchequer. The ruling over statutory liabilities has triggered a rush for provisioning by telecom companies.

While Vodafone Idea posted a loss of Rs 50,921 crore, the highest-ever quarterly loss by any company in India, Airtel reported a loss of Rs 23,045 crore.

On Friday, Reliance Communication posted a consolidated loss of Rs 30,142 crore for the July-September 2019 period due to provisioning for liabilities after the Supreme Court ruling on statutory dues — marking second-highest loss posted by any Indian company till date.

Airtel, Vodafone Idea and other telecom operators have to pay the government a whopping Rs 1.4 lakh crore following the Supreme Court order that has sent shock waves through an industry already grappling with past losses and billions of dollars in debt.

According to latest estimates by the telecom department, Bharti Airtel faces a liability of around Rs 62,187 crore (including share of Tata Group of companies and Telenor India), while Vodafone Idea may have to pay about Rs 54,184 crore. The remaining liability is with state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. and some of the shut or bankrupt telecom companies.

Stung by colossal losses, Vodafone Idea has said its ability to continue as a going concern is dependent on obtaining relief from the government and positive outcome of the proposed legal remedy. The company is also in the process of filing a review petition against the Supreme Court order.

The Department of Telecommunications had shot off notices to telecom operators to pay their revenue share dues within three months as directed by the Supreme Court. The DoT has given option to telecom operators to clear all the dues on self-assessment basis.

Last month, the government also constituted a committee of secretaries to explore a financial bailout package for the telecom sector.―Bloomberg Quint

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