A Supreme Court Bench, comprising Justices Arun Mishra and M R Shah, on Wednesday expressed its displeasure over the Department of Telecommunication’s (DoT’s) plea seeking to allow telecom operators to make a staggered payment of their adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues. The matter was deferred to be heard again after two weeks.
"Self-assessment by DoT is sheer violation of our orders, sheer contempt," Justice Arun Mishra remarked, according to Live Law. "Who permitted self-assessment? CAG audit has to be done. This is in contempt of our orders". Mishra said the Court could not permit another round of litigation on the AGR issue.
To the assertion of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who is appearing for the DoT, that there was no reassessment of dues and that only an extension of time was sought, Justice Mishra said: "If this is the attitude of the government, we shall recuse ourselves."
“We cannot allow encroachment of SC judgment. If we allow these pleas, SC will be party to a fraud. We say with all responsibility that we cannot allow reopening,” the court observed.
Mishra also turned his ire on the media, alleging “powerful” telecom companies were influencing the media. "Telecom companies are very powerful and that is why they are influencing the newspapers to write stories every day. If we want, we can send the managing directors from the companies to jail," Live Law quoted Justice Mishra as saying.
Earlier this week, the government had approached the apex court seeking approval to a formula allowing telecom service providers to pay their unpaid or remaining AGR dues in annual instalments over the next 20 years or more.
The plea had stated that telecom service providers liable to make payments had started making payments and the part payment was made arising out of AGR dues.
The petition said that the Centre was dealing with the telcos and it had found that those who were required to make the payments were catering to millions of consumers across 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."
The decision in favour of the DoT plea could have given a major fillip to the ailing telecom sector, especially Vodafone Idea, which has been on the brink of a collapse. It, however, would also have implied that the government would receive a fraction of its earlier estimate of Rs 1.47 trillion as AGR-linked dues from the telecom industry.