Reserve Bank of India Governor Shaktikanta Das on Monday said the central bank was closely monitoring the crisis in telecom firms to see if there would be a fallout on lenders, PTI reported. He told the news agency that there have been no red flags so far.
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. The court also pulled up the firms and the telecom department on contempt charges.
“With regard to the impact on the banking sector, we are very closely monitoring it,” Das said, while refusing to comment on the Supreme Court ruling. “It all depends on how the companies concerned are able to make the payments and when they are able to make the payments. We are monitoring it.”
On Monday, some companies paid a part of their dues – Airtel paid Rs 10,000 crore, Vodafone Idea Rs 2,500 crore, and the Tata Group paid Rs 2,197 crore. A total of 15 entities owe the government several crores of rupees as statutory dues. But many of them are already struggling with mounting losses and this additional liability may lead to them defaulting on loans.
Of the total amount owed to the government, Rs 92,642 crores were unpaid licence fees and Rs 55,054 crores were spectrum usage charges. Vodafone Idea owes the government most – Rs 53,000 crore – followed by Bharti Airtel and the now defunct Tata Teleservices, which owes the government Rs 14,000 crore.
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. The company, which had warned of a potential collapse just a few months earlier, flagged concerns over the continuation of its business.
Vodafone Idea’s senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi said the company had made a loss of more than Rs 2 lakh crores over the last decade and will have to shut down if it was to pay dues overnight, according to NDTV. Referring to the Rs 2,150 crore Vodafone has paid, he said: “The government should not rock the boat by encashing the bank guarantees, or the company should close tomorrow.”
The Supreme Court’s order has “precipitated a crisis for loss-incurring firms”, he said. “The companies have been telling the Department of Telecommunication that there is no way they can pay these dues overnight,” Rohatgi told the news channel. “And the government should also wake up to the situation, otherwise this sector which is very, very stressed, will have only two operators, which is like semi-monopoly, which is what we call oligopoly.” Only structured, reasonable installments of payments will ensure the company survives, Rohatgi said.
While Airtel is expected to survive this crisis, Vodafone Idea faces a potential collapse. Many analysts expect Airtel to pay its dues and survive, and eventually enjoy a duopoly with Jio in the sector.