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AGR dues: SC restrains DoT from encashing Airtel’s bank guarantees for 3 weeks

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New Delhi, Aug 24, 2021- The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked Department of Telecommunication (DoT) not to invoke bank guarantee given by Bharti Airtel for a period of three weeks for not clearing Videocon Telecommunications Ltd’s adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues of over Rs 1,300 crore.

A bench headed by Justices L. Nageswara Rao and comprising Justices S. Abdul Nazeer and M. R. Shah declined to entertain Airtel’s plea challenging the DoT demand, but it allowed the telecom firm to approach the appropriate forum against the government decision.

Senior advocate Shyam Divan, representing Bharti Airtel, argued that his client received a communication on August 17, saying the firm must make payment and if it fails to do so, then there is a possibility of invoking various bank guarantees. He contended that Rs 18,000 crore dues have already been paid by the telecom company, according to the top court’s order and there is another figure, which is attributed to Videocon Telecommunications.

He added that there is a particular spectrum traded by Videocon to Airtel and citing the spectrum trading guidelines, he added the seller shall clear all dues prior to concluding any agreement for spectrum trading.

“The liability is of Videocon… full liability of the seller,” submitted Divan.

Divan argued that by adding the dues of Videocon to the demand made from Airtel, the DoT has violated the apex court’s order that AGR dues cannot be recalculated or reassessed.

The top court said it will not interfere with its order, rather it will grant liberty to Airtel to move any other alternate forum to redress its grievances. Divan said that the alternate forum will be the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT).

Earlier this year, in an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court on the status of statutory dues paid by telecom operators, the DoT said it is planning to slap Videocon Telecommunications Ltd’s AGR dues over Rs 1,300 crore on Bharti Airtel. Videocon Telecommunications had sold spectrum of 30 MHz to Bharti Airtel in 2016.

Concluding the hearing, the top court allowed Airtel to withdraw the application and also restrained the DoT from invoking its bank guarantees for 3 weeks.

According to the Centre’s calculations, the total AGR liability of Bharti Airtel is Rs 43,980 crore, Vodafone Idea’s is Rs 58,254 crore, Tata group’s is Rs 16,798 crore, BSNL owes Rs 5,835.85 crore, and MTNL Rs 4,352.09 crore. (Agency)

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