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DoT seeks legal opinion on AGR payment timeline

The Department of Telecommunications has sought legal opinion from Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on whether the Supreme Court’s order on adjusted gross revenue (AGR) payment timelines implies that Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel need to pay 10% of their dues, in addition to what they have already paid, by the end of March 2021.

“Obviously, there is some confusion and the DoT has written to the SG seeking a legal opinion on the matter,” a senior government official told ET.

AGR dues include licence fees, spectrum usage charges, interest and penalties. ET reported in its September 16 edition that the DoT was considering seeking a legal opinion on the matter.

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court ruled on September 1 that telecom operators must pay 10% of the total dues as demanded by DoT by March 31, 2021 and the remainder in instalments every financial year up to March 31, 2031.

Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel have said that they have already paid more than 10% of their total AGR dues and that their first instalment falls due only in the fiscal year ending March 2022.

However, the DoT’s interpretation is that the court was aware of the payments already made by the operators and when it asked them to pay 10% of the AGR dues by end of the current financial year, it clearly meant they needed to pay that in addition to the amounts already paid. The rest would need to be spread equally over 10 years.

The department was compelled to seek legal opinion after the telcos wrote to the government clearing their stance and publicly said that according to their interpretation of the SC judgment, they had already paid their dues till March 31, 2021.

Vodafone Idea, with dues of over Rs 58,254 crore, has already paid Rs 7,854 crore. Bharti Airtel has paid up Rs 18,004 crore against dues of Rs 43,980 crore, while the Tata group has paid Rs 4,197 crore of the Rs 16,798 crore it needs to pay.

“All three have paid well above the 10% they were required to pay according to the SC judgement, so where is the question of another 10% to be paid by March 2021?” asked an industry executive.

Government officials have previously pointed out that the SC judgment clearly asked the telcos to pay 10% in the current financial year. Most of the previous payments by the telcos, barring an amount that Vodafone Idea paid in July this year, were made in the previous financial year and therefore it is unlikely the top court could have been alluding to them. LookMyGadget

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