The telecom department is focused on ensuring that the country’s digital infrastructure is robust and strong to support the needs of millions of Indians amid the Covid-19 crisis.
Officials said the issue of adjusted gross revenue dues is on the backburner for now and no ‘meaningful’ discussions or meetings have been held on the payments in the recent past.
“There have been no notices sent to telcos on their AGR payments or any discussions on it. Now, the focus of the Department of Telecommunications is on how to ensure smooth running of operations during the coronavirus pandemic,” said a government official who did not want to be identified.
The Supreme Court had scrapped the self-assessment of AGR dues by telcos on March 17 and agreed to consider the government’s plea to allow Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel and Tata Teleservices to stagger the payment of dues over as many as 20 years.
The apex court had then said the matter would be taken up in two weeks, but now with the 21-day nationwide lockdown, it’s unclear when the next hearing will be scheduled.
Telcos said the Covid-19 crisis has underlined the necessity for India to have three healthy private operators to service 1.3 billion people.
“The recent developments on Covid-19 highlight the universal understanding that duoplies and monopolies are not conducive to ensuring national welfare… operators have dealt with the surge in traffic demand by stepping up to the plate to ensure networks perform at 99.99% uptime even with a 20-30% increase in traffic loads due to work from home,” said Rajan Mathews, director-general of the Cellular Operators Association of India.
COAI represents private telcos Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio.
The telecom industry – under debt of Rs 7 lakh crore and crippled by over three years of price wars – has been appealing to the government to ensure that the sector does not become a duopoly, especially in the face of huge statutory dues that Vodafone Idea has to pay.
The government has estimated VIL’s dues at Rs 58,254 crore, Bharti Airtel’s at Rs 43,980 crore and Tata Teleservices’ at Rs 16,798 crore. So far, Vodafone Idea has paid Rs 6,854 crore, Airtel Rs 18,004 crore and Tata Tele Rs 4,197 crore.