An inter-ministerial group comprising officials from the finance ministry, NITI Aayog, and Department of Telecommunications on Sunday discussed urgent relief measures that could be extended to the telecom industry on adjusted gross revenue (AGR) issue.
The telecom department officials remained tightlipped after the high-level meeting on Sunday. The meeting comes at a time when the companies stare at Rs 1.47 trillion in unpaid dues — Rs 92,642 crore in unpaid licence fee and another Rs 55,054 crore in outstanding spectrum usage charges.
Of the estimated dues that include interest and penalty for late payments, Airtel and Vodafone Idea owe about 60 per cent. Airtel has raised $3 billion in the past few months and is expected to have sufficient funds to tide over the AGR crisis. Vodafone Idea, which has paid just 7 per cent of its total Rs 53,000-crore statutory dues, remains vulnerable.
Bharti Airtel Chairman Sunil Mittal had last week appealed to the government for cut in levies and taxes, in order to pull the sector out of what he had described was an “unprecedented crisis”.
The government, meanwhile, is looking to strike a balance between complying with the Supreme Court order on AGR dues, ensuring health of the sector and safeguarding consumer interest.
Both Mittal and Vodafone Idea Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla continued to meet top government functionaries throughout the last week to seek prompt measures that would offer a breather to the sector.
A top government official had recently said attempts were being made to balance the need for health of the sector, consumer interest while complying with the Supreme Court order on statutory dues.
Although the official had not elaborated, sector watchers had said the statement alluded to the government keen on ensuring adequate competition by
retaining the present three-plus-one model of competition (three private players and one public sector company). The statutory dues arose after Supreme Court, in October last year, upheld the government’s position on including revenue from non-core businesses in calculating the annual AGR of telecom companies, a share of which is paid as licence and spectrum fee to the exchequer.
The Supreme Court earlier this month rejected a plea by mobile carriers such as Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea for extension in the payment schedule and asked all of them to deposit an estimated Rs 1.47 trillion in past dues for spectrum and licences. It threatened to initiate contempt proceedings against top executives of these firms for non-payment.
Some telecom firms are already struggling with mounting losses and debt and the additional liability has raised concerns of them defaulting on existing loans.