In a setback for Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel, the Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed telecom companies' plea seeking review of its order on the recovery of Rs 92,000 crore on the issue of adjusted gross revenue (AGR).
A bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, S A Nazeer and M R Shah did not find merit in the review plea and said that the telecom companies are at liberty to file curative petitions against the review petition.
Telecom firms are supposed to pay Rs 92,000 crore in dues by January 23 following the court order in October last year.
Reacting to the SC ruling, Bharti Airtel said it's disappointed as the company believed the long-standing disputes raised regarding the AGR definition were bonafide and genuine. However, the company is evaluating to file a curative petition.
"The industry needs to continue to invest in expanding networks, acquiring spectrum and introducing new technologies like 5G. The money now required to pay punitive interest, penalty and interest on the penalty which forms nearly 75% of AGR dues would have better served the digital mission of the country," the company said.
The Supreme Court had ordered telecom firms, including Bharti Airtel Ltd and Vodafone Idea Ltd, to pay the government as much as Rs 92,000 crore ($13 billion) in dues, which include penalties and interest.
In the verdict, a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra had said telecom companies will have to shell out the dues. The Department of Telecom's (DoT) total demand is estimated at around Rs 92,000 crore.
"We allow the appeals of the DoT... The gross revenue will prevail as defined as gross revenue", said the court citing no further exercise should take place in connection with the re-calculations regarding the dues.
Union telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had told Parliament in November that Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and other telecom companies owe the government as much as Rs 1.47 trillion in past statutory dues. He had added that there is no proposal at present to waive interest and penalties on such dues.
In replies to separate questions in the Lok Sabha, Prasad had said telecom companies owe the government Rs 92,642 crore in unpaid licence fee and another Rs 55,054 crore in outstanding spectrum usage charges.
In an affidavit filed earlier in the top court, the DoT said Airtel owed Rs 21,682.13 crore as a licence fee to the government and dues from Vodafone totalled Rs 19,823.71 crore, while Reliance Communications owed Rs 16,456.47 crore. BSNL owed Rs 2,098.72 crore, and MTNL Rs 2,537.48 crore.Holding that interest and penalty have rightly been levied on the telecom companies, the apex court had made it clear that there would be no further litigation on the issue and it would fix a time-frame for calculation and payment of dues by the telecom companies.