Home Law Supreme Court issues contempt proceedings against telcos for failing to clear outstanding AGR dues

Supreme Court issues contempt proceedings against telcos for failing to clear outstanding AGR dues

Both Bharti Airtel and Vodafone had cited 'irreparable damage' to the telecom industry, owing to the hefty payment. Both these companies had filed petitions earlier this month, seeking modifications in the October 2019 order.

On Friday, a Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justices Arun Mishra, S Abdul Nazeer, and M R Shah issued a contempt notice against telecom companies over non-payment of outstanding Associated Gross Revenue (AGR) to the Department of Telecommunication.

The Court also directed the presence of all Directors and the Managing Director of the telcos on the next date of hearing.

Ending a 14-year-long legal tussle last year in October, the Supreme Court had laid down on what constitutes AGR. The Court had directed Bharti Airtel, Tata Teleservices and Vodafone to clear their dues of ₹35586, ₹14,0000 and ₹50,000 crores respectively. It is important to mention that Jio had cleared its dues of ₹60 Crore.

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The Supreme Court had observed that a desk officer from the Department of Telecommunication wrote a letter to the Attorney General and other authorities, saying that no coercive action should be taken against telcos for recovery of outstanding dues within the 90-day time-frame fixed by the apex court.

It drew the ire of the Constitutional Bench, especially Justice Arun Mishra. He said, “Call the desk officer here! This is not the way your Officer should behave. We will draw up contempt of court against everyone.”

The bench has also issued an order to the DoT to immediately withdraw its order staying the recovery of AGR dues ‘until further notice’. A contempt notice has also been issued against the concerned officer who had issued the DoT order.

Anguished by how the Supreme Court’s directive was flouted, he sighed, “Is there no law left in this country? I am literally anguished. I should not work in this country at all. I am saying this with some responsibility… This cannot happen in this country. We cannot function in this fashion. Let’s wind up the Supreme Court. It is better to leave this country. They can stay the order? There is so much money power..” The case had now been adjourned until March 17.

Earlier on January 16, the bench had dismissed review petitions filed by telcos seeking a review of the SC’s earlier order asking them to pay the AGR dues totalling up to ₹1.47 lakh crores by January 23.

Both Bharti Airtel and Vodafone had cited ‘irreparable damage’ to the telecom industry, owing to the hefty payment. Both these companies had filed petitions earlier this month, seeking modifications in the October 2019 order.

While Vodafone argued that it was not in a position to make payment upfront owing to financial constraints, Airtel said that the 90-day time frame was not sufficient to evaluate dues and make payment.

As per the latest report by PTI, stirred up after the SC’s remarks, the government has asked telcos to pay up dues before Friday midnight. PTI has cited a government order issuing to circle or zone-wise demand notices to telecom companies, asking them to pay up the dues before 11.59 pm Friday, that is today.

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