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Airtel offers to pay ₹10,000 crore by February 20, balance by March 17

Airtel on Friday said it will deposit ₹10,000 crore in Supreme Court-ordered dues with the Department of Telecommunications by February 20 and the balance by next date of hearing on March 17.

Bharti Airtel will deposit ₹10,000 crore as part payment for adjusted gross revenue related dues to the department of telecommunications by 20 February and the balance before 17 March as it needs time to complete the exercise of calculating dues across 22 circles, the company said in a letter to the DoT on Friday.

“We are confident that we will complete the self assessment exercise shortly and make the balance payment well before the next date of hearing of the Supreme Court,” the letter said.

Mint has seen a copy of Airtel’s letter. The company’s total dues are ₹35,586 crore.

This comes immediately after the DoT asked all telecom companies to repay AGR dues by end of Friday in order to comply with the October verdict of the Supreme Court.

“You are hereby directed to make the payment of outstanding dues of licence fee and spectrum usage charges by 11:59 pm of 14 February positively,” the DoT letter dated 14 February said.

The government has also withdrawn its 23 January order in which it had decided not to take coercive action against mobile service providers that failed to meet the court-directed deadline to pay dues.

“The order dated 23 January stands withdrawn with immediate effect,” the DoT said in a separate letter dated 14 February.

“It is directed to take immediate necessary action in compliance with the judgement dated 24 October of the Supreme Court,” the letter said.

Mint has seen a copy of DoT’s letters.

DoT’s move comes after the Supreme Court on Friday pulled up Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea for not paying their adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues to the government by 23 January.

The Supreme Court on Friday made scathing observations on the conduct of the telecom companies as well as the DoT for ignoring its 24 October verdict that had directed the firm to pay DoT by 23 January over ₹1 trillion in dues for under reporting their revenues.

“We draw contempt against companies. Let the desk officer also explain why appropriate action should not be taken and he should be present on the next date of hearing. Please ask the desk officer to withdraw that dot order or he will go behind the bars by evening. We have to take action against him. Officer should understand where they should stop. It is clear contempt,” the court said.

The apex court also asked top executives of the telecom operators to appear on 17 March for the hearing in case of non payment of dues.

This spells another round of trouble for the telcos which have been battling a mountain of debt and plunging revenue streams. It also raises questions on the survival of Vodafone Idea and the competition in the Indian market which could see the risk of a duopoly.

Vodafone Idea’s ability to continue as a going concern is dependent on the positive outcome of the modification application filed in the apex court and the subsequent agreement with DoT for payment in instalments after some moratorium and other reliefs, the company had said on Thursday.

Airtel has already raised $3 billion to repay dues. Jio paid its AGR dues on 23 January.

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