DoT scraps order that shielded telcos from coercive action after SC outburst
The move came after a three-judge bench of the SC blasted the companies, as well as the government, over the non-payment of dues running into thousands of crores of rupees.
The department of telecommunications (DoT) has withdrawn an order asking for no coercive action against telecom companies defaulting on payment of statutory dues after the Supreme Court on Friday took a strong view of non-compliance of its judgment.
News agency Press Trust of India quoted unnamed sources as saying that DoT withdrew its order earlier on Friday.
The department’s move came after a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court blasted the companies, as well as the government, over the non-payment of dues running into thousands of crores of rupees after its verdict last year on the interpretation of the adjusted gross revenue (AGR).
“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 led by Justice Arun Mishra had asked.
The ruling in October last year had come at the end of a 14-year-long legal battle that required telecom companies to pay the government Rs 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 January 23 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.
The bench also summoned top officials of the telecom firms to explain why contempt proceedings shouldn’t be initiated against them for non-compliance.
It was particularly upset with a telecom official who, it said, had effectively stopped the implementation of the top court’s verdict.
“A desk officer is sitting in appeal over our orders,” Justice Arun Mishra said, referring to an official who issued the notification allowing a 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.
“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,” it said.
The bench had on January 16 rejected review petitions filed by telecom forms on the verdict that required them to clear their dues by January 23.
It had upheld the AGR definition formulated by the DoT and said the nature of objections raised by the telecom service providers was “frivolous”.