The Supreme Court today rejected a plea by telecom operators seeking more time to settle AGR dues and began contempt proceedings against the companies.
The Supreme Court’s three-judge panel, headed by Arun Mishra, today said that operators must deposit the dues by March 17. The Supreme Court was hearing fresh pleas of telecom firms, including Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Tata Teleservices, that sought a new schedule of payment of adjusted gross revenue (AGR) related dues to the tune of ₹1.47 lakh crore to the Department of Telecommunications.
The three-judge bench wondered at the temerity of the desk officer to override its order and ordered the government to withdraw it by the end of the day. The order was withdrawn within hours of the court outburst.
'What is happening? What has happened? A review was dimissed. There's no stay. Despite this there is an order of no-recovery?," Justice Mishra said in his angry outburst.
Vodafone Idea had warned yesterday that its ability to continue as a going concern is essentially dependent on a positive outcome of its modification application in the Supreme Court on the AGR matter and any relief from the Telecom Department on payments. Indian markets reversed early gains and shares of Vodafone Idea fell sharply in early noon trade today. The Sensex was down about 150 points, giving up gains of about 200 points.
Solicitor Genral Tushar Mehta urged the judge to calm down, insisting that his health was all important and not to record such observations. But Justice Mishra continued to make some rather scathing remarks about the manner in which the case had gone on for 20 years with anyone paying any AGR dues and inisting on its payment. "There is no respect to the Supreme Court, Justice Mishra went on.
Earlier on January 16, a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra had dismissed review petitions of telecom firms seeking review of its earlier order asking them to pay ₹1.47 lakh crore in statutory dues by January 23, saying it did not find any "justifiable reason" to entertain them.
The top court had on October 24 last year ruled that the statutory dues need to be calculated by including non-telecom revenues in AGR of telcos.