Telecom major Vodafone Idea on Saturday said it was assessing the amount that can be paid towards the adjusted gross revenue to the Department of Telecommunications before the next hearing date, PTI reported. However, the company, which had warned of a potential collapse just a few months earlier, flagged concerns over the continuation of its business.
The liability of Vodafone Idea Ltd is estimated to be around Rs 53,038 crore, including Rs 24,729 crore of spectrum dues and Rs 28,309 crore in licence fee. “The company is currently assessing the amount that it will be able to pay to DoT towards the dues calculated based on AGR [adjusted gross revenue], as interpreted by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in its order dated 24 October 2019,” Vodafone Idea said in a BSE filing. “The company proposes to pay the amount so assessed in the next few days.”
On Friday, a Supreme Court bench of Justices Arun Mishra, S Abdul Nazeer and MR Shah issued notices to Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, Tata Teleservices and others, ordering them to pay adjusted gross revenue of Rs 1.47 lakh crore to the Department of Telecommunications before the next hearing on March 17. The court said that if the amount was not paid, the managing directors and other senior officers of the companies will have to personally appear in court for the next hearing.
Later in the day, the telecom department withdrew its order that had asked for no coercive action against the telecom companies. It added that the government had asked telecom companies to clear the dues by 11.59 pm on Friday.
Vodafone said the continuation of its business in India will depend on a favourable order on its modification plea filed before the Supreme Court. “As disclosed in the company’s financial statements for quarter ending December 31, 2019, the company’s ability to continue as a going concern is essentially dependent on a positive outcome of the application for modification of the supplementary order,” the company said in the filing.
In December, company’s Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla said that Vodafone Idea will have to shut shop if it does not get relief from the government. He said his group will not invest any more money in the company if relief does not come by as that would “not be good business”.
On January 15, the top court dismissed petitions filed by telecom firms such as Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea seeking a review of its earlier order that allowed the government to collect Rs 1.47 lakh crore in past statutory dues by January 23. The court said it did not find any “justifiable reason” to entertain the petitions.
In October, the Supreme Court had asked telecom operators to pay tax on their non-core revenues over and above the spectrum usage charges and licence fees. It upheld the Centre’s broader definition of revenue, based on which the government calculates levies on telecom operators. Airtel and Vodafone Idea are facing a combined liability of Rs 82,000 crore following the Supreme Court ruling.
Fifteen entities owe the government Rs 1.47 lakh crore. Of this, Rs 92,642 crores amounted to unpaid licence fee and Rs 55,054 crore is outstanding spectrum usage charges. Vodafone Idea owes the government most – Rs 53,000 crore – followed by Bharti Airtel (Rs 35,500 crore) and the now defunct Tata Teleservices, which owes the government Rs 14,000 crore. Airtel is expected to survive this crisis. This was also evident in the stock market on Friday as the shares of Airtel rose 4.38% despite the court’s ruling. Many analysts expect Airtel to pay off its dues and survive and eventually enjoy a duopoly with Jio in the sector. Airtel has informed the telecom department it will deposit Rs 10,000 crore by February 20, and the remaining amount “well before” March 17.