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Secretary Panel May Seek TRAI Opinion On Telecom Sector Relief Package

The Secretaries Panel which is looking for a solution to reduce stress in telecom companies in the wake of the Supreme Court order on Revenue computation and also give relief to the sector in general may seek inputs from Trai on a possible bail-out.

The panel is also mulling meeting industry body COAI, and the telcos — Jio, Bharti and Vodafone Idea as well, while seeking written inputs on the current situations and suggestions from DoT and Trai.

Once the direction of the proposals are made, the DoT will be asked to seek Law Ministries view on their feasibility (only on the aspects of Supreme Court order).

Official sources said the discussions are on within the Secretary panel that Trai should be consulted being the sector regulator for any relief to the telcos.

Trai chairman R.S. Sharma did not respond to calls.

The possible decision on package will come before the three months expire after the Supreme Court order. The apex court order came on October 24.

The Prime Minister’s Office and the Finance Ministry have already held separate meetings with Department of Telecom over working out a solution on the AGR decisions of the Supreme Court where the telecom operators have been asked to pay a hefty amount of Rs 1.3 lakh crore overall to the government as dues.

AGR or Adjusted Gross Revenues includes all licensed revenues of a telecom firm not necessarily originating only from mobile or landline services. It now includes all incomes likes towers, ISP licenses, rentals as per the apex court order which has supported the DoT computation and this is now a 14-year-old-due amount which has jacked up the payout by telcos like Airtel and Vodafone Idea.

Highly placed sources said the PMO and Finance Ministry meetings held with DoT did not cough up any possible way or solution that could bring relief to the telcos.

The newly appointed panel-led by Cabinet Secretary also met for the first time to look at sectoral levies relief and they too discussed the AGR issue though its terms of reference is not on the AGR issue discussion.

Sources said as the Secretary panel starts meeting more, there is expected to be some direction which can be followed and only the PMO will take a call after inputs from the secretary panel, Finance Ministry, Law Ministry and Department of Telecom.

The Telecom Ministry has, however, made it clear to these ministries and PMO that insistence on payment by these telcos could land them in NCLTs where recovery of government dues would drag again for years and these telcos have taken huge loans of over Rs 3 lakh crore from banks for previous spectrum auction which they would not be able to return to the banks and the NPAs would rise as a result.

There would be extreme difficulties for 70 subscribers of these telcos if they shut down. Other than that, Indian Telecom sector would get an extremely rough image in the global map.―Newsd

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