AGR judgment: SC says telcos have 10 years to clear dues

A Supreme Court bench led by Justice Arun Mishra delivered the judgement on the repayment of adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues by telecom companies.
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Telecom, Spectrum, Network Tower

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed telecom operators 10 years to pay up dues related to adjusted gross revenue (AGR).

The development comes as a relief for Vodafone Idea Ltd, for which survival would have been a concern had the apex court not agreed to a staggered payment schedule. The company owes over ₹58,000 crore in AGR dues.

A three-judge apex court bench, headed by Justice Arun Mishra, directed telecom operators to make 10% upfront payment of their AGR dues, with the rest of the payments to begin from 1 April, 2021.

The department of telecommunications (DoT), in March, had appealed to the apex court seeking 20 years for paying AGR dues, which include spectrum usage charges, license fees, interest, penalties, and interest on penalties.

The Supreme Court had expressed reservations about granting 20 years’ time, voicing doubt about recovery of dues, especially from Vodafone Idea which has been battling a liquidity crunch.

Vodafone Idea and rival Bharti Airtel had sought 15 years for payment of AGR dues, while Tata Teleservices Ltd had requested 7-10 years. Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, which launched in September 2016, had paid its relatively minuscule dues of ₹195.18 crore in January, complying with the Supreme Court’s October 2019 judgement.

On 24 October, the apex court upheld the DoT’s broader definition of AGR and ordered telcos to pay levies based on that definition, along with interest on the principal amount and penalty. The DoT calculates levies such as SUC and licence fees based on AGR.

The court directed 15 telcos, including those which have shut shop, to pay ₹1.47 trillion in AGR dues within three months. In subsequent hearings, the court had rejected dues based on self-assessment by telcos, saying that the calculations of the DoT were final.

For Bharti Airtel, the DoT estimate stands at ₹43,780 crore, but according to the telco’s self-assessment, it owes ₹13,004 crore. The telco has paid this amount along with an additional ₹5,000 crore in ad-hoc payment.

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