As the debt-ridden telecom companies paid off Rs 14,700 crore to the government on the direction of the Supreme Court, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Monday said the central bank is “very closely monitoring” the fallout of the crisis on lenders by way of a default, if any, by telecom players.
In an interview with PTI, RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das said so far no red flags have been raised but the central bank continues to monitor the situation closely.
The Supreme Court, last Friday, came down heavily on the telecom companies for not paying dues to the tune of Rs 1.47 lakh crore to the government and summoned their top executives to court to explain why its order on clearing dues was not followed.
A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra further warned the telecom companies that the apex court may initiate contempt proceedings against them and government officials for not paying the adjusted gross revenue (AGR) and not complying with court’s earlier order.
In view of the order, the Department of Telecom’s (DoT) Controller of Communication Accounts (CCA) Uttar Pradesh (West) telecom circle asked all telecom service providers under it to pay their licence fees and spectrum usage charges (SUC) by 11.59 pm on Friday.
In the following development, Airtel on Monday paid Rs 10,000 crore out of the Rs 35,586 crore dues followed by Vodafone Idea and Tata Teleservices making part payments of their AGR dues to DoT, furnishing Rs 2,500 crore and Rs 2,200 crore, respectively.
As per DoT’s calculations, Airtel owes AGR of Rs 35,500 crore, Vodafone Idea’s dues are Rs 53,000 crore and Tata Teleservices, which has been merged with Airtel but its AGR dues are being paid by the Tatas, owes Rs 14,000 crore.
Some telecom firms are already struggling with mounting losses and debt and the additional liability has raised concerns of them defaulting on existing loans.
Airtel has said it will clear the remaining dues before the next date of hearing on March 17 but Vodafone Idea has so far not provided a clear deadline for making payments.
Meanwhile, Vodafone Idea could be the largest bankruptcy ever in India as the inability to pay dues under the adjusted gross revenue (AGR) may push the Vodafone Plc and Aditya Birla joint venture in that direction. Vodafone Idea, promoted by British telecoms giant, Vodafone Plc and Aditya Birla group, has said it will repay some of its obligations under AGR in the next few days. However, it has not disclosed how much the amount will be paid.
However, the RBI governor has refused to comment on the top court ruling.
“With regard to the impact on the banking sector, we are very closely monitoring it. 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,” Das said.
On January 16, Justice Mishra-led bench had already rejected the telecom service providers’ plea seeking a review of its earlier order that allowed the government to collect dues worth Rs 92,000 crore from them. It further asked them to pay Rs 1.47 lakh crore in statutory dues by January 23, saying it did not find any “justifiable reason” to entertain them.
The companies wanted the Supreme Court to allow them to approach the Department of Telecom (DoT) so that payments can be made beyond January 23, which was the deadline to clear the AGR dues.
Lashing out at the telecom firms for not complying with its order, the court said: “No company has deposited anything for many years. They should have deposited some money.”
“I am totally at a loss how to work in this system and in this country… A desk officer considers himself judge and stays our order. Who is the desk officer? Where is the desk officer? Call him now, here. Is there any law left in the country?” the judges questioned.
Justice Mishra said that the telecom companies haven’t even paid a single penny and the government officer wants stay on the order.
“We will initiate contempt against the officer and the companies. Not a penny has been deposited… Is it not the outcome of money power?” the court thundered.
The top court had on October 24 last year ruled that the statutory dues needed to be calculated by including non-telecom revenues in AGR of telcos.