The Supreme Court has refused an open court hearing on petitions of telecom operators like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Tata Teleservices, seeking a limited review of its October 24, 2019, order which asked the companies to pay licence fee and spectrum usage charges on their overall revenues - those accruing from even streams which are not part of telecom licence - within three months.
Instead of an open court hearing, the apex court bench led by Justice Arun Mishra is likely to conduct the proceedings in its chamber on January 15 or 16, according to lawyers privy to the information. The last date for paying the dues, which for the industry amounts to Rs 1.47 lakh crore, is January 23.
Review petitions are heard by the same bench which has passed the original judgment, unless a judge has retired. In the AGR matter, Justices SA Nazeer and MR Shah were also part of the original Bench led by Justice Mishra.
Senior counsel Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi had on Wednesday sought an open court hearing before Justice Mishra’s bench, which had said that a decision will be taken on the date for hearing after consulting Chief Justice SA Bobde.
The companies through their separate petitions have sought waiver of interest, penalty, and interest on penalty. Of the total Rs 1.47 lakh crore of dues, nearly 75% are interest, penalty, and interest on penalty. Bharti Airtel along with its limited review petition has also filed a supplementary petition urging the apex court to empower department of telecommunications to engage with the operators to discuss timelines and quantum of payment etc.
Of the overall amount, the licence fee dues stand at Rs 92,642 crore while SUC is at Rs 55,054 crore. The bulk of the dues are payable by Vodafone Idea at Rs 53,039 crore, while Bharti Airtel needs to pay Rs 35,586 crore.
Of the total licence fee dues demand of Rs 21,682 crore raised on Bharti Airtel, interest, penalty and interest on penalty comprise Rs 16,152 crore. For Vodafone Idea, the demand raised is Rs 28,309 crore and out of this Rs 21,435 crore are on account of interest, penalty and interest on penalty.
Since the order to pay up the amount came from the Supreme Court the government is unwilling to provide any relief to the operators on this front and is waiting for the outcome of their review petitions to decide its next course of action. If the operators are able to get any relief from the court, the government will go by it.
The operators have urged for the waiver keeping in context the overall financial hardship being faced by the industry. Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel, together posted a loss of around Rs 74,000 crore in their July-September earnings after provisioning for the AGR related dues.