The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a petition by the Centre challenging the Telecom Dispute Settlement Appellate Tribunal’s (TDSAT’s) order by which it had asked the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to return bank guarantees worth nearly Rs 2,100 crore to Vodafone Idea.
The matter will be heard with other similar matters in which the government has asked bank guarantees from companies before approving their merger or sale to other telecom companies, the top court said.
The DoT had asked Vodafone Idea the bank guarantee as one-time spectrum charges (OTSC) as a condition for approving the merger of the two companies. Though the companies had then given the bank guarantees, they had challenged the same before TDSAT. The telecom appellate tribunal had in January asked the DoT to refund the said amount to Vodafone Idea within two months.
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As a pre-condition to approve the merger of Vodafone and Idea Cellular, the DoT had in July last year asked for bank guarantees worth nearly Rs 3,300 crore. The two companies had then said they would pay the same, but ‘under protest’. Terming the bank guarantees “arbitrary, discriminatory, illegal and unenforceable”, Vodafone Idea had then written to the DoT to recalculate the charges.
Vodafone Idea had then also challenged the merger and acquisition clause of the DoT, which says that if there is judicial intervention in a case, the government would be able to seek bank guarantee that would be equal to the demand made on the company towards OTSC.
In a similar case, the top court on Monday asked the Centre and Airtel to approach the TDSAT with a review petition against the Rs 1,627 crore bank guarantees that the company had paid for merger with Tikona Digital Networks. The merger of both the companies shall remain stayed for the next 15 days while the companies approach the telecom appellate tribunal with the review petition, the top court said on Monday.
DoT had in August last year asked Airtel to pay in cash and bank guarantees the sum to issue a no-objection certificate to clear the firm’s merger with Bharti Digital Networks, which was formerly known as Tikona Digital Networks.