New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday banned any further reassessment or self-assessment of telcos’ adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues, dubbing attempts to reopen the issue as tantamount to fraud and contempt of court, and ordering that operators pay interest and penalties in full. The directive sent shares of Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel tumbling.

A three-judge bench, headed by Justice Arun Mishra, said the court had completed the exercise, fleshed out the dues that would have to be paid once and for all, and ordered that no such exercise shall be attempted again.

The court, however, agreed to consider the government’s plea on allowing affected telcos to stagger payments over 20 years or less. The matter will be taken up at the next hearing, scheduled after two weeks.

‘DoT Must Withdraw Self-Assessment Notice’

“…we see an attempt has been made to scuttle the effect of the order… This is a gross violation of the order of this court by entering into a process of self-assessment or reassessment that is virtually reopening of entire dues… that kind of exercise is not at all permissible and is tantamount to sitting over the order of the court,” the bench said.

“We order that no exercise of selfassessment/reassessment (is) to be done and dues that were placed before us have to be paid as we have affirmed these dues, including interest and penalty. It is shocking and surprising that companies are not paying a fraction of revenue earned by them and they are keeping it with them so long,” it said.

The bench, which also comprises Justices S Abdul Nazeer and MR Shah, asked the department of telecommunications (DoT) to withdraw the self-assessment notice sent to telcos. “There is no authority with any company to enter into self-assessment/reassessment and to reopen dues which have been settled by this court.”

The bench slammed DoT officials and telcos for reopening the entire exercise. “This is sheer fraud taking place in the face of this court. Grossest contempt has already been committed,” Justice Mishra observed during the hearing. “We will summon the DoT officials responsible for self-assessment. We would neither spare DoT, nor telecom companies.”

However, in its written orders, the court did not haul any individual or entity for contempt. The bench only warned against any such attempt by the telcos in future.

“We do not appreciate at all the way in which they are acting. In case, they indulge in it any further, their MD shall be personally responsible for further violation of the court’s orders,” it said.

After the October 24 order, which backed the Centre and widened the definition of AGR to include noncore items, 15 telcos were left facing dues of over Rs 1.43 lakh crore.

The DoT, soon after, asked telcos to self-assess their dues and pay, adding that it would subsequently raise demand notices if it found the liabilities were more than what the carriers had paid.

The worst-affected telcos Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel and Tata Teleservices, with combined dues of Rs 1.19 lakh crore as per the DoT’s latest estimates filed in court on Monday, have calculated their liabilities at Rs 36,734 crore.

While Bharti Airtel and Tata Teleservices have paid self-assessed dues in full, Vodafone Idea has paid partially. But the apex court was in no mood to accept any selfassessment.

‘EXERCISE CAN’T BE PERMITTED’

“This exercise cannot be permitted even in their wildest dreams,” the court said. The bench threatened to go after officials of the telcos and DoT for daring to initiate such an exercise.

“… if you want, we can call the managing directors of the companies and send them to jail from here,” Justice Mishra warned.

“Are we fools? Do the DoT officers think they are superior to us? Can’t these companies be touched? Everyone has been trying to influence us…,” Justice Mishra said in court.

Justice Mishra expressed surprise that the DoT, which had fought tooth and nail to recover its dues, was now dragging its feet.

Shares of Vodafone Idea plunged 34.85% to Rs 3.16, while those of Bharti Airtel fell 6.1% to Rs 426.20 on the BSE Wednesday.

The court’s observations came during the hearing on the AGR matter, including the government’s proposal to allow telcos to stagger their payments over a maximum of 20 years, at a reduced interest rate of 8%, to prevent an “adverse impact” on the economy, jobs and millions of consumers. The proposal also includes freezing interest and penalty components as of October 24, and said the net present value will be “protected using the discount rate”.

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