Monday, 30th October 2017

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Meet kindles telecom relief hope

Ministries confer on a Sunday

By TT Bureau in New Delhi
  • Published 24.02.20, 1:15 AM
  • Updated 24.02.20, 1:15 AM
  • 2 mins read
  •  
Vodafone Idea, which has only paid just seven per cent of its Rs 53,000-crore statutory dues, remains vulnerable. (Shutterstock)

Senior officials of the telecom department and other key ministries met on Sunday to discuss urgent relief measures that can be extended to the telecom industry, which is battling an unprecedented crisis on account of massive statutory dues it owes to the government.

The meeting, held at the department of telecom, lasted for over an hour and is said to have deliberated on options before the government to provide a much needed lifeline to the AGR-hit industry.

Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Mittal had last week made an appeal to the government for a cut in levies and taxes to pull the sector out of what he had described as an “unprecedented crisis”.

Telecom department officials remained tightlipped after a high-level government meeting on Sunday, where officials from Niti Aayog and the finance ministry are said to have been present.

DoT secretary Anshu Prakash remained unavailable for comments.

The crucial meeting comes at a time the telecom companies are staring at Rs 1.47 lakh crore in unpaid dues — Rs 92,642 crore in unpaid licence fee and another Rs 55,054 crore in outstanding spectrum usage charges.

Of the estimated dues that include interest and penalty for late payments, Airtel and Vodafone Idea owe about 60 per cent.

Airtel has raised $3 billion in the last few months and is expected to have sufficient funds to tide itself over the AGR crisis.

Vodafone Idea, which has only paid just seven per cent of its Rs 53,000-crore statutory dues, remains vulnerable.

The government, meanwhile, is looking to strike a balance between complying with the Supreme Court order on AGR dues, ensuring the health of the sector and safeguarding consumer interest.

Both Mittal and Vodafone Idea chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla continued to meet top government functionaries throughout last week to seek prompt measures that would offer a breather to the sector.

“AGR is an unprecedented crisis for industry, which is being dealt with by government,” Mittal had said.

A top government official had said recently that attempts were being made to balance the need for the health of the sector and consumer interest while complying with the Supreme Court order on statutory dues.

Although the official had not elaborated, sector watchers had said the statement alludes to the government keen on ensuring adequate competition by retaining the present three-plus-one model of competition (three private players and one public sector company).

The statutory dues arose after the Supreme Court, in October last year, upheld the government’s position on including revenue from non-core businesses in calculating the annual AGR of telecom companies, a share of which is paid as licence and spectrum fee to the exchequer.