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Airtel, Vodafone Idea move SC for waiving AGR penalties

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New Delhi, Nov 22 : The country’s two top telecom operators – Vodafone Idea and Airtel – on Friday filed review petitions in the Supreme Court against its AGR verdict, just ahead of the 30-day time period expiring Saturday since the court’s order dealt a financial body blow to the already battered industry neck deep in debts and losses

Both Airtel and Vodafone Idea have filed for review petitions on waiver of interest and penalties of the AGR amount, sources said. The telcos went to the court again after the government told them that there is no proposal at present to waive interest and penalties on such dues.

As per Communication Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s replies in the Parliament, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and other telecom companies owe the government as much as Rs 1.47 lakh crore in past statutory dues. In replies to separate questions in the Lok Sabha, Prasad 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 the case of Bharti Airtel, the liabilities added up to nearly Rs 35,586 crore, of which Rs 21,682 crore is licence fee and another Rs 13,904.01 crore is the SUC dues (not including the dues of Telenor and Tata Teleservices). In the case of Vodafone Idea, this number stands at a cumulative Rs 53,038 crore, including Rs 24,729 crore of SUC dues and Rs 28,309 crore in licence fee.

Both the petitions of Airtel and Vodafone India contest imposition of interest on outstanding dues and penalties as upheld by the Supreme Court, said sources. The deadline for payment of licence fee and spectrum charges dues on account of AGR definition as decided by the court over the last 14 years is January 24.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has already issued demand notices to telcos asking them to do self-assessment, and submit the dues by around January 22, as directed by the Supreme Court in its late October judgement that favoured DoT in the 16-year-old dispute.

Under the impact of the dues, Vodafone Idea filed the highest-ever quarterly loss in the corporate history – Rs 50,992 crore in the second quarter of 2019/20. Airtel’s net losses were also phenomenal at Rs 22,830 crore in the same quarter. Both telcos have counted higher losses on the provisioning for AGR dues.

Bharti Airtel, for instance, has provisioned for Rs 28,450 crore in the September quarter which is over and above its earlier provisioning of about Rs 5,810 crore – taking the total provisioning (for AGR dues) to Rs 34,260 crore.

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Swamy warns against Air India sale, wants House panel to vet his note

It has been reliably learnt that the Rajya Sabha member had expressed reservations over privatisation of Air India the meeting of a Parliamentary consultative committee earlier this month.

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Subramanian Swamy

New Delhi, Jan 23: The government’s plan to sell national carrier Air India may face political and legal headwinds with senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy raising the red flag against the decision.

Days before the launch of bidding process by inviting Expressions of Interest (EoI) from potential suitors, Swamy has warned against such move, saying the issue was currently being discussed by a Parliamentary panel.

“Right now, it (Air India disinvestment) is before the consultative committee and I am a member of that. I have been asked to give a note which will be discussed in the next meeting. They can’t go ahead without that,” Swamy told IANS.

“If they do, I will go to court. They know that too,” he cautioned.

A vocal opponent of Air India privatisation, Swamy had earlier suggested to list 49 per cent of Air India shares on stock exchanges while government holds 51 per cent in the carrier as an alternative to selling its entire stake to private companies.

It has been reliably learnt that the Rajya Sabha member had expressed reservations over privatisation of Air India the meeting of a Parliamentary consultative committee earlier this month.

After its failed first attempt, the Modi government has shown great zeal this time to sell Air India. It is set to offer a sweetened deal to potential buyers this time around by removing a large chunk of the debt and liabilities from the airline books.

Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had earlier said that Air India will be shut down, in case the disinvestment exercise is not successful.

Sources told IANS that the preliminary information memorandum (PIM) inviting EoI has been tentatively scheduled to be unveiled on January 27.

Air India is proposed to be sold along with its subsidiary Air India Express and ground-handling joint venture company Air India Singapore Airport Terminal Services Ltd (AISATS) in which it has 50 per cent stake.

Air India on January 10 came out with tender for engaging aircraft asset management companies for carrying out technical audit of its entire fleet.

A Ministerial panel on Air India chaired by Home Minister Amit Shah on January 7 approved the draft EoI and a share purchase agreement (SPA) for the airline’s disinvestment.

(Nirbhay Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])

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Vodafone quits Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency project

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San Francisco, Jan 22 Telecom major Vodafone has joined the list of top companies which have backed out from Facebook’s controversial Libra cryptocurrency project.

Vodafone joins PayPal, Mastercard, Visa, Mercado Pago, eBay, Stripe and Booking Holdings in withdrawing from the controversial project — and is the first company to exit after the Libra Association was formed in October last year, Coindesk reported on Tuesday.

The companies have left owing to concerns about heightened regulatory scrutiny and users’ data privacy.

“We can confirm that Vodafone is no longer a member of the Libra Association. Although the makeup of the Association members may change over time, the design of Libra’s governance and technology ensures the Libra payment system will remain resilient,” the Libra Association said in a statement.

“The Association is continuing the work to achieve a safe, transparent, and consumer-friendly implementation of the Libra payment system.”

Despite top-notch firms pulling out, Facebook and 20 partner organisations formally joined the digital currency Libra project in Geneva in October.

The Libra Association said that more than 1,500 entities have expressed an interest in joining the digital currency project.

Several US senators have opposed Facebook’s digital coin, arguing that the social networking giant has been irresponsible with user data privacy. They have even called the digital cryptocurrency Libra “delusional” and “dangerous”.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress in October about Libra, defending the idea, but acknowledging the struggles left to overcome.

In a six-hour grilling at a House Financial Services Committee hearing, both Democrat and Republican lawmakers expressed dissatisfaction with Facebook’s cryptocurrency plans.

“As I have examined Facebook’s various problems, I have come to the conclusion that it would be beneficial for all if Facebook concentrates on addressing its many existing deficiencies and failures before proceeding any further on the Libra project,” said California Representative Maxine Waters.

“Facebook’s internal motto was for a long time ‘move fast and break things.’ Mr. Zuckerberg, we do not want to break the international monetary system,” added New York Democrat Nydia VelAizquez.

Libra has failed in its current form, according to the President of Switzerland.

In a media interview, Swiss President and Finance Minister Ueli Maurer stated that Libra does not have a chance of being successful “because the basket of currencies that is deposited in this currency is not accepted by the national (central) banks”.

“The project in this form has actually failed,” Maurer was quoted as saying.

The Libra project, which is still in development, aims for the launch of its first version this year.

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Vodafone quits Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency project

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San Francisco: Vodafone has become the latest big player who have decided to quit Facebook’s controversial Libra cryptocurrency project.

Vodafone joins PayPal, Mastercard, Visa, Mercado Pago, eBay, Stripe and Booking Holdings in withdrawing from the controversial project — and is the first company to exit after the Libra Association was formed in October last year, coindesk reported on Tuesday.

The companies left owing to concerns about heightened regulatory scrutiny.

“We can confirm that Vodafone is no longer a member of the Libra Association. Although the makeup of the Association members may change over time, the design of Libra’s governance and technology ensures the Libra payment system will remain resilient,” the Libra Association said in a statement.

“The Association is continuing the work to achieve a safe, transparent, and consumer-friendly implementation of the Libra payment system.”

Despite top-notch firms pulling out, Facebook and 20 partner organisations formally joined the digital currency Libra project in Geneva in October.

The Libra Association said that more than 1,500 entities have expressed an interest in joining the digital currency project.

Several US senators have opposed Facebook’s digital coin, arguing that the social networking giant has been irresponsible with user data privacy. They have even called the digital cryptocurrency Libra “delusional” and “dangerous”.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress in October about Libra, defending the idea, but acknowledging the struggles left to overcome.

Libra has failed in its current form, according to the President of Switzerland.

In a media interview, Swiss President and Finance Minister Ueli Maurer stated that Libra does not have a chance of being successful “because the basket of currencies that is deposited in this currency is not accepted by the national (central) banks”.

“The project in this form has actually failed,” Maurer was quoted as saying.

The Libra project, which is still in development, aims for the launch of its first version this year.

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