‘Are We Fools?’ SC rules out re-assessment of Telecom firms’ AGR dues, calls Govt attitude questionable

The court said that all telecom companies will have to pay the dues with interest and penalty as was ordered in the main judgment

Legal News, Nation, (New Delhi), March 18:-The Supreme Court on Wednesday said there would not be any re-assessment of Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) dues to be paid by telecom firms as it came down heavily on the government and called its attitude in the case questionable.

Criticising the government for seeking time to re-assess total dues of telecom firms, a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra asked, “Are we fools? Who allowed re-assessment?” as it added that everyone has been trying to influence the court but it “won’t budge.”

The court said that all telecom companies will have to pay the dues with interest and penalty as was ordered in the main judgment.

“If reassessment is permitted – it is fraud on this court. We won’t spare officials who allowed reassessment of telecom dues,” the Supreme Court said, ordering the Department of Telecom (DoT) to withdraw its move to allow reassessment.

The judges were exasperated that the companies continued to knock on its doors even as its October 24 judgment made it amply clear what dues they had to pay. The court said the numbers were arrived at by the Department of Telecom only on which the case was fought.

Ending a 14-year-long court battle, the SC had upheld the government’s definition of AGR on which it calculates levies on telecom operators, dealing a blow to the industry.

Vodafone Idea was estimated to pay dues of  Rs 58,254 crore, including penalty and interest. The company’s assessment though pegged it at  Rs 21,533 crore. So far, the telecom firm has paid Rs 6,854 crore, which is the entire principal amount it had self-assessed as dues related AGR.

Bharti Airtel Ltd has pegged its dues at RS 13,004 crore after self-assessment, less than a third of the Rs 43,980 crore that was estimated by DoT.

Justice Mishra said that it is public money some companies are trying to pocket but the government thinks it is excessive. “Government’s attitude is questionable… will recuse if it behaves like this,” the judge said.

On the government’s plea to allow the telecom firms to make staggered payments of AGR dues over the next 20 years, the court said it will hear the matter at a later date.

The government had approached the Supreme Court on Monday seeking approval for a formula allowing telecom service providers to make annual installments of unpaid or remaining AGR dues in next 20 years or more.

The petition said that the Centre is dealing with the telecom service providers and it has found that telcos who are required to make the payments are catering to crores of consumers throughout the country.

“The Centre is conscious of the fact that any immediate adverse impact on the functioning of telecom service providers would not only have an adverse impact on the overall economy of the nation but would also seriously harm the interest of the consumers across the country,” added the petition.

-(NAV, Inputs: Agencies)

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