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Don’t attempt to reopen AGR dues case, Supreme Court to Airtel

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New Delhi, July 20, 2020-

The Supreme Court on Monday sternly told Bharti Airtel not to attempt to reopen the adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues case, as all the dues are included in the verdict, and there is no room available for the adjustment of dues payable by it.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing Bharti Airtel, contended before a three-judge bench headed by Arun Mishra and comprising Justices S. Abdul Nazeer and M.R. Shah that it has already paid Rs 18,000 crore after the apex court verdict, and the government has wrongly sought Rs 43,000 crore as AGR dues, including spectrum usage charge (SUC) dues as well.

To which Justice Mishra replied, “Don’t try to reopen the case; all dues are included in the AGR verdict… There is no room available for adjustment of dues payable by Airtel.”

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, said that as per the Department of Telecommunication (DoT), Airtel owes a sum of Rs 43,780 crore, out of which it has paid Rs 18,000 crore, and the remaining balance is Rs 25,976 crore.

Singhvi argued that the dues payable by Airtel should be Rs 21,000 crore and not in excess of Rs 43,000 crore, as claimed by the DoT. He insisted that the DoT has added SUC dues to the amount claimed.

The bench observed that Airtel is looking to reopen the issue. “We can’t allow recalculation at this stage. If we permit you to recalculate, it would be a violation of our orders. We will not allow this self-assessment by Airtel,” noted the bench, adding that the definition of AGR has already been clarified by the apex court.

The counsel for Tata Teleservices also claimed lower AGR dues, which are payable. The bench replied, “This is a waste of our time, we will impose very heavy costs. Telcos are trying to seek recalculation, trying to dilute the verdict.”

The bench cited that four companies, having dues close to Rs 39,000 crore, are under liquidation, and if the telcos are not able to secure the dues payable, then how can the court allow payment in installment.

The top court added that 20 years to clear AGR dues is a long period and it is not reasonable. “Revenue of the country needs to be saved,” said the bench.

Tata’s counsel submitted that before the top court that 7 to 10-year period would be reasonable to clear AGR dues. Tata has paid Rs 4,197 crore and the remaining balance is Rs 12,601 crore.

Airtel’s counsel suggested a 15-year period to clear the AGR dues.

The bench noted that while hearing the matter, an attempt was made to wriggle out of its verdict on AGR dues in the guise of recalculation of dues, and as per the verdict, whatever the dues are, they have to be paid. The amount recoverable is to be taken as the final amount, and no self-assessment can be done, added the bench.

The Centre has calculated Rs 1.47 lakh crore as AGR dues.  (Agency)

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