Last week, the Department of Telecoms (DoT) advised the government it would recalculate the amounts owed by the telcos for their AGR dues, based on the telcos’ own self-appraisals.
Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel have independently found their liability to be around half of that calculated by the DoT…
Last week, the Department of Telecoms (DoT) advised the government it would recalculate
the amounts owed by the telcos for their AGR dues, based on the telcos’ own self-appraisals.
Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel have independently found their liability to be around half of that calculated by the DoT. Airtel has since paid what it believes it owes (~$1.75 billion) in full, while Idea has started to contribute towards the $2.9 billion debt it calculated for itself.
The Supreme Court, however, has reacted furiously to the telcos’ perceived impudence.
"Who has permitted this self-assessment? From where has this concept of self-assessment come up? Who is allowing all this? This is sheer contempt,” said the court yesterday, announcing that they would not consider the recalculated amounts.
The court reiterated what it has said time and time again to the telcos: the amount must be paid in full.
The court also struck out at the media for trying to influence the court through economic scaremongering, as well as haranguing the operators’ managing directors, threatening to jail them for trying to shirk their lawful repayments.
“This is a question of apex court prestige,” said Justice Arun Mishra. “Do companies feel they are more powerful on earth?"
Comments like these seem to indicate that the AGR conflict is evolving into something more than just a legal battle over money. For the Supreme Court, it seems to have become a clash of constitutional sovereignty against the conniving machinations of big business, but for the telcos this is a battle of ego against economic common sense. They argue that the government must work with the telcos to find an amiable solution, otherwise Vodafone Idea will likely collapse and leave the countries telcoms industry in a state of duopoly.
There may be some light at the end of the tunnel for the telcos, however, with the court agreeing to hear a plea to stagger the payment terms of the AGR dues over 20 years. This hearing will take place in a fortnight, though based on yesterday’s outburst, the operators cannot be too optimistic.
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