AGR case: SC seeks payment plan from telcos, criticises DoT demand from PSUs (Lead)

New Delhi, June 11 (IANS) In relief for telecom companies grappling to clear the adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues, the Supreme Court on Thursday directed them to file affidavits on the time-frame and medium to ensure they clear the dues to the government, and also the security arrangements they can furnish.A bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, S. Abdul Nazeer and M. R. Shah said: “Firstly, the reasonable time-frame, secondly, how to ensure the payment of the amount even within that time-frame and what kind of securities, undertakings and guarantees should be furnished to ensure that the amount is paid by the telecom service providers.”The court noted that the telecom companies prayed for time to file a joint affidavit with respect to their proposal to secure the amount “which is to be paid under the orders passed by this Court”. “Let a joint affidavit be filed within five days from today. List the matters on June 18,” said the bench.During the hearing, the Department of Telecom (DoT) informed the apex court the Central government has extensively examined the adjusted gross revenue (AGR) matter, and then it has come out with a bail-out package. It will be difficult for companies to pay in one go, said the DoT. At this, the bench queried Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was appearing for the DoT: “What is the guarantee telecom companies will pay in that time-frame (decided by the Centre)?” Justice Mishra said: “Everyday, I think about how our judgement (AGR matter) has been used and misused.”Mehta replied the government has examined the impact on the economy if telecom companies were to pay the entire amount in one go. “Seeking all telecom dues in one go might create distrust among telecom service providers, if some operators shut down operation,” he argued. He also contended that if the court objected to the time-frame developed by the Centre, then it will adversely impact the telecom sector, affect the network and ultimately, the consumers will suffer. The bench sought a time-frame from the Centre on the payment of the AGR dues. “What if one of the companies goes into liquidation, who will pay then?” queried the bench.The top court also noted that the demand of Rs 4 lakh crore dues raised against PSUs like GAIL, Oil India Ltd, Powergrid, and Gujarat Narmada Valley Project was not reasonable. “How the demand was raised on the basis of our judgment with respect to public sector undertakings when the licences were different and the judgment never dealt with the issue of public sector undertakings and their agreements are quite different,” the bench asked the SG. The bench noted that it is apparent that the licences are different and the October 2019 judgment in this case could not have been made the basis for raising the demand against PSUs. Even otherwise, the PSUs are not in the actual business of providing mobile services to the general public, added the bench.”In the circumstances, let the Department of Telecom reconsider the demand that has been sprung, within three days from today, and on the next date of hearing report the compliance of the action taken on the basis of this order,” said the court. Nearly Rs 1.5 lakh crore dues have been calculated by the Central government, which is yet to be cleared by many telecom companies.–IANSss/vd

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