- Debt-ridden telecom firms have paid part of the Rs 1.47 lakh crore
- Bharti Airtel made a payment of Rs 10,000 crore on Monday
- Telecom companies have been struggling with huge losses
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Bharti Airtel paid Rs 10,000 crore to the telecom department on Monday. Vodafone Idea and Tata Group have made part payment of about Rs 2,500 crore and over Rs 2,197 crore. According to the telecom department, Airtel owes a total of 35,586 crores. After paying 10,000 crores on Monday, it still has to pay around 25,586 crores. Vodafone owed a total of 53,000 crores. After Monday's payment, It still has to pay around 50,500 crores. Tata Teleservices has to make a total payment of 13,800 crores. The deadline for the payments is March 17.
Asked about the road ahead, Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, "The Department of Telecommunications is actively engaging with telecom companies after Supreme Court order. I will hear from the department what position it wants to take on matter," reported news agency Press Trust of India.
With concern that the telecom companies, under pressure to pay the government, may default on existing loans, Reserve Bank of India Governor Shaktikanta Das said they are "very closely" monitoring the situation.
"With regard to the impact on the banking sector, we are very closely monitoring it. It all depends on how the companies concerned are able to make the payments and when they are able to make the payments," he was quoted as saying by PTI.
Earlier on Monday, the Supreme Court refused to pass any order on Vodafone Idea's proposal to pay Rs 2,500 crore by the end of the day and Rs 1,000 crore by Friday. The company had also suggested that in return for the payment, no coercive action be taken against it and asked that the bank guarantee it deposited with the government not be encashed.Mukul Rohatgi, the senior counsel for Vodafone Idea, told NDTV, “The government should not rock the boat by encashing the bank guarantees, or the company should close tomorrow” (Tuesday).
Last Friday, the Supreme Court said it would "initiate contempt against the officer and the companies". "Not a penny has been deposited... Is it not the outcome of money power? We don't know who is creating this nonsense, is there no law left in the country?" the judges said.
After being pulled up by the Supreme Court, the telecom department had withdrawn its order of January 23 that no coercive action will be taken against the telecom companies for defaulting on payments.
In October, the Supreme Court upheld the telecom department's demand that wireless carriers pay Rs 92,000 crore, and gave telecom operators three months to clear the dues. Last month, the court rejected the companies' appeal to review the decision.
Telecom providers pay the government 3-5 per cent of their AGR (adjusted gross revenue) in spectrum usage charges and 8 per cent as licence fees. The firms have long argued that the AGR should comprise just revenue accrued from core services. The government says it should include all revenue.
Over the last years, the telecom sector has been struggling with losses accumulated to stay competitive. A few companies had to fold up under debt. In December, Vodafone Idea Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla said the company might have to "shut shop" if there is no relief on the statutory dues. "If we are not getting anything, then I think it is the end of the story for Vodafone Idea," he had said.