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DoT may send AGR notice to Tata Teleservices before Supreme Court hearing

On March 17, Supreme Court will hear modification pleas filed by Tata Teleservices, Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel on the AGR ruling. But DoT is unlikely to be able to reconcile by then the gap between its dues estimates and those of the telcos.

Last Updated: Feb 24, 2020, 06.34 AM IST
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Agencies
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Tata Teleservices said it has paid Rs 2,197 crore as per its self-assessment and submitted details of AGR dues.
MUMBAI: The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is likely to issue a notice to Tata Teleservices (TTSL) before March 17 demanding payment of balance adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues, said officials aware of the matter. The company has not submitted enough details regarding its self-assessment of dues and these will need to be provided, they said.

The Supreme Court is set to hear modification pleas, filed by telcos such as Tata Teleservices, Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel on the AGR ruling, on March 17. But DoT is unlikely to be able to reconcile differences between its estimates of AGR dues and that of Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel by that date.

With the upcoming hearing in mind, government efforts to help the sector have picked up speed. On Sunday, senior officials of the telecom, finance ministries and Niti Aayog met for over an hour in the telecom department to discuss urgent relief measures, with the aim of ensuring the market will have three viable private sector players. Vodafone Idea has said it will be forced to shut unless it gets some relief on dues.

Among the options on the table are some deferment of non-AGR dues, or even a mechanism for soft loans for stressed telcos. The top court had made clear on February 14 that AGR dues will need to be paid up by the next hearing day. Tata Teleservices, Airtel and Vodafone Idea have already paid the government a combined Rs 16,000 crore.

Tata Teleservices, which sold its consumer mobility business to Bharti Airtel in 2017, said it has paid Rs 2,197 crore as per its self-assessment and submitted details of AGR dues. DoT pegged TTSL dues at Rs 14,819.03 crore. “We have more than fairly assessed ourselves and paid what we know are more than fair dues to the government. We are hoping that the subject will be closed,” said a senior Tata executive close to developments. TTSL and Tata Sons didn't respond to emails requesting comment.

DoT said the submission wasn’t detailed enough. “They have just mentioned their dues from each circle every year. What is the rationale behind it is not known to us,” said a person aware of the development.

Vodafone Idea has paid Rs 3,500 crore of DoT’s estimated Rs 57,000 crore dues. The telco estimates its dues to be around Rs 23,000 crore, of which Rs 7,000 crore is the principal. Experts say the cashstrapped carrier will find it difficult to pay even its own estimated dues in such a short period.
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Officials said that these discrepancies are likely to lead to further litigation. “Operators have never done this self-assessment before and none of them have so far given the methodology behind their calculations,” said an official. “DoT has started the process of reconciliation and may send notices to telcos asking them to explain their rationale. If there is a discrepancy, legal route is available.”

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