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AGR dues: DoT to send show-cause notices to telcos

Kiran Rathee
The notices issued by the controller general of communication accounts of all telecom circles, clearly stated that in case of non-payment, action will be taken as per the licence agreement.

The department of telecommunications (DoT) is likely to go ahead and start issuing show-cause notices to telecom operators, starting Monday, asking why action should not be taken against them for non-payment of adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues within the stipulated timeframe.

According to official sources, a financial penalty can be imposed on operators for not complying with its order to make payments by midnight of February 14, the day the Supreme Court expressed its displeasure over the companies not making any payment by January 23. It even pulled up the DoT for issuing orders to its field offices for not taking any coercive action against the companies for not making the payment.

Contempt proceedings have been initiated on the matter against the DoT and the telecom operators, and the next date of hearing on the matter is March 17.

Following a hard rap on February 14, all the field offices of DoT had issued notices to telecom operators to make immediate payments by midnight. However, no telecom operator has made the payment so far, though they have indicated that they would do so before March 17. Still, the offices are expected to send the compliance report to DoT headquarters on Monday and seek instructions for the next course of action.

The notices issued by the controller general of communication accounts of all telecom circles, clearly stated that in case of non-payment, action will be taken as per the licence agreement.

According to officials, a penalty can be imposed on operators for non-compliance and notices issued asking why their licences should not be cancelled.

"The government needs to tread cautiously as it has to comply with the Supreme Court's order while also not take any action that may further worsen the situation of telecom industry," an official said.

So far operators, including Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Tata Group, have informed the DoT about their intentions to make payments by March 17. While Bharti Airtel has said it will make a payment of Rs 10,000 crore on February 20 and balance by March 16, Vodafone Idea has said it will make payments by March 17.

Though in total 15 telecom companies owe Rs 1.47 lakh crore in dues to the government, many have either shut shop or gone into insolvency. As such the total amount from the three companies functioning-Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea, and Tata Teleservices-is Rs 1.02 lakh crore.

Though Bharti has raised funds to pay up and Tata Teleservices is in a position to do the same, Vodafone Idea has stated in the past its inability to pay in one go. It remains to be seen how and when and how much it finally pays.