AGR case: Supreme Court dismisses telecom firms’ plea seeking recomputation of dues

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The Supreme Court (SC) of India, on July 23, rejected Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Tata Teleservices’ application seeking re-computation of the adjusted gross revenue (AGR) – related dues.

The matter was being heard by a bench comprising Justices LN Rao and Hrishikesh Roy on July 23.

In 2020, the apex court gave 10 years’ time to telecom service providers struggling to pay Rs 93,520 crore of AGR-related dues to clear their outstanding amount to the government.

A bench headed by Justice LN Rao referred to the earlier order passed by the apex court in the matter and observed that they said no re-assessment of AGR-related dues could be done.

However, in their plea, the telecoms majors raised the issue of alleged errors in calculation in the figure of AGR-related dues demanded by the Department of Telecommunication (DoT).

To strengthen its appeal, Vodafone said it was about to go under owing to dues of Rs 1.8 lakh crore, and sought correction of arithmetic errors. Bharti Airtel, on the other hand, had claimed duplication, unaccounted payments, and disallowed deductions.

The three telecom companies — Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea, and Tata Teleservices — appealed to the Supreme Court to allow them to make staggered AGR payments.

According to the DoT, Bharti Airtel owes over Rs 43,000 crore as AGR dues, while Vodafone Idea has a balance payment of more than Rs 50,000 crore.

In 2020, the top court upheld the Government of India’s position on the calculation of statutory liabilities. The Centre suggested that revenue from non-core businesses should also be included in arriving at the annual AGR amount.

Burdened with the claim from the DoT, the telcos appealed to the Supreme Court to provide the option of staggered payments over either 20 years or 10 years. Vodafone-Idea argued that the only way to repay such a huge sum would be to ‘earn and pay’.

However, the Solicitor General informed the Supreme Court that DOT had not shared any instructions on allowing correction of errors, and the apex court too, had on three previous occasions, held that the AGR demand cannot be recomputed.

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