The Supreme Court on Monday concluded hearings on a government plea that sought to offer India’s struggling telecom operators, facing demands for billions of dollars in dues, some relief through a staggered payment schedule.
Vodafone Idea Ltd and Bharti Airtel Ltd have requested for a 15-year window to clear the dues, while Tata Teleservices Ltd has sought 7-10 years. A government plea that sought the court’s approval to allow telcos affected by its October 24 ruling a 20-year period to clear ₹1.47 lakh crore in dues was rejected earlier.
The court reiterated that telcos have to abide by the ruling on the quantum of their dues, as was calculated by the department of telecommunications (DoT), and there is “no room for self-assessment”. The court also directed DoT to submit insolvency proceedings details of Reliance Communications (RCom), Aircel and Videocon Telecom within seven days. A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra said RCom has huge unpaid AGR dues, and the top court will examine whether the insolvency proceedings are bona fide. The court will take up the matter on insolvency proceedings on August 10. “Several telcos with AGR dues of over ₹38,000 crore are currently in liquidation. Need to ensure Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code is not being misused by telcos to escape liabilities,” said justice Mishra.
Expressing doubt over Vodafone Idea’s capacity to clear the dues, the court asked how it can “rely” on the company’s assurances, given its financial position. The telco is now seeking 15 years to pay dues worth ₹58,254 crore, versus 20 years earlier.