The Supreme Court on Thursday termed as “totally impermissible” the Department of Telecommunications’ move to seek Rs 4 lakh crore as dues towards Adjusted Gross Revenue from public sector units, PTI reported. In response, the department said it will file an affidavit explaining why such revenue is being charged against the units.

On January 15, the top court had 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.

On May 18, the top court criticised the telecom firms for self-assessing their outstanding telecom dues. The court said the firms need to pay the outstanding dues along with interest and penalty, amounting to a total of Rs 1.6 lakh crore. The Supreme Court also lashed out at the Department of Telecommunications for allowing the companies to reassess their dues.

However, on Thursday, the court said its orders had been misused. A bench of Justices Arun Mishra, S Abdul Nazeer and MR Shah raised questions on the demand raised by the government from the PSUs, saying that the matter had not been dealt with by the Supreme Court. The bench said its order was restricted to private telecom firms.

“There are a few PSUs which form a class unto themselves,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta argued in court, according to Bar and Bench. “These PSUs are not providing mobile services like other telecom providers for commercial exploitation. These companies need to be treated differently than private sector telecom providers.” However, he admitted that imposing dues on public sector units may not be in public interest.

The bench also castigated private telecom companies. Justice MR Shah asked why not a single telecom company has contributed to the fight against the coronavirus crisis. Congress leader and lawyer Kapil Sibal, appearing for Hughes Communications, said that the company has donated to the PM-CARES fund. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing Aircel, said the firm has paid almost Rs 100 crore to PM-CARES.