‘Literally shocked’: SC summons telecom bosses for contempt
The government too faced criticism for not doing enough to implement the order and collect the dues.
The Supreme Court on Friday rebuked telecom companies for not paying up the money due to the government following the top court’s October verdict on the interpretation of the Adjusted Gross Revenue.
Last year’s ruling that came at the end of a 14-year-long legal battle required telecom companies to pay the government ₹92,000 crore. It held that companies could not exclude their non-telecom revenue to calculate the fee to be paid to the exchequer. The top court had set a 23 January deadline for the companies to clear the outstanding dues.
Telecom companies including Airtel and Vodafone Idea approached the top court on Friday to ask the bench to modify this direction.
A three-judge bench led by Justice Arun Mishra lashed out at the companies and the government. “What is happening in this country? We want to use very harsh words because this is complete nonsense... Is there any law left in the country?”
The bench has summoned top officials of the telecom firms to explain why contempt proceedings shouldn’t be initiated against them for non-compliance.
The bench was particularly upset with a telecom official who, it said, had effectively stopped implementation of the top court’s verdict.
“A desk officer is sitting in appeal over our orders,” Justice Arun Mishra said, referring to a telecom official who issued the notification allowing delay in payment of the dues, effectively keeping the Supreme Court judgment in abeyance.
“All these companies haven’t even paid a single penny and your officer has the audacity to stay the order... Does the Supreme Court have no value... This is the outcome of money power,” Justice Mishra said.
“We draw contempt against the companies. Let the desk officer also explain why appropriate action should not be taken and he should be present in the next date of hearing. Please ask the desk officer to withdraw that DoT order or he will go behind the bars by evening. We have to take action against him. The officer should understand where they should stop... It is clear contempt.” the bench said.
On 16 January, the bench, which also comprises justices Abdul Nazeer and MR Shah, had rejected review petitions filed by telecom forms on the verdict that required them to clear their dues running into thousands of crores by January 23.
It had upheld the AGR definition formulated by the DoT and termed as “frivolous” the nature of objections raised by the telecom service providers.
The Supreme Court verdict has not only hit telecom firms hard but also made non-telecom firms holding licences for internal communications and signalling liable to pay licence fee on their entire revenue, even if they do not offer telecom services.
The telecom department had sought ₹1.72 trillion from GAIL (India) Ltd, ₹48,000 crore from Oil India Ltd, ₹22,168 crore from Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd, ₹15,019 crore from Gujarat Narmada Valley Fertilisers and Chemicals Ltd and ₹5,841 crore plus interest from Delhi Metro Rail Corp. Ltd (DMRC).