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Next hearing that OTSC should be levied only prospectively on Dec 2
A two-judge bench headed by Justice MR Shah has granted two weeks to the government, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, and scheduled the next hearing for December 2. The case was heard on November 17, and the government told the Supreme Court that the Cabinet is yet to take a call and it needed more time.
On October 5, the Centre had told the Supreme Court that it was reconsidering its decision to pursue its appeal to recover Rs 40,000 crore from telecom companies for spectrum usage charges as most of them were facing losses and could become unsustainable,
Telecom companies have to pay one-time charges for spectrum held beyond 4.4 Mhz. The prolonged dispute between the companies and the government on one-time spectrum charges (OTSC) had taken a significant turn in 2019 when the Telecom Disputes Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) ruled that the charges could be imposed only prospectively.
The Department of Telecom (DoT) had appealed in the apex court against the Tribunal decision.
“We are in the process of considering or reviewing the decision to proceed with the present proceedings of appeal… Several considerations are there. The government has to go through them. Considering the nature of the issues involved, this decision will have to be taken after the scrutiny at various levels, which may consume some reasonable time… Give us three weeks’ time,” Mehta had requested a Bench of Justices M.R. Shah and A.S. Bopanna.
“Supposition the decision is taken, then what are the consequences?” Justice Shah asked Mehta.
Mehta began to downplay the situation when Justice Shah intervened to point out that “Tell us what are the consequences? For us that is an issue… We have to consider the issue in view of the larger public interest”.
Mehta replied that “we will cross the bridge when we come to it”.
“We (government) work very fast… That is why even for an adjournment, we have filed a two-page adjournment… This case is very important to us,” Mehta impressed upon the court.
Senior advocate Brijesh Chahar, appearing for one of the parties, objected prima facie to the government’s submission. “This is public money of up to ₹45,000… The government cannot be allowed to withdraw [its appeal],” Chahar submitted.
Mehta questioned the locus standi of Chahar’s client to intervene, saying the government filed the appeal, and the decision to withdraw or not was a matter strictly between the government and the court.
“They [government] want time to discuss, debate, consider, review the issue and its repercussions…” Shah explained to Chahar.l, while giving the Centre the adjournment.
In its order, the court referred to the affidavit filed by the government to note that “in lieu of the subsequent developments” the Centre was reconsidering its appeal.
The court had adjourned the case to November 17 without saying “anything on such proposed decision or its larger implications”.
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