After Supreme Court rap, the telecom department on Friday began issuing orders, asking firms such as Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea to clear past dues immediately.
The DoT, which faced the ire of the Supreme Court for putting on hold recovery of dues from telecom companies, started issuing circle or zone-wise demand notices to firms, according to the order copies reviewed by PTI.
The Supreme Court had asked companies to clear dues, totalling an estimated Rs 1.47 lakh crore, before the next date of hearing on March 17.
Airtel responded to DoT order by offering to pay Rs 10,000 crore by February 20 and the remaining before March 17. Airtel owes nearly Rs 35,586 crore, including licence fee and spectrum usage charge, to the government.
There was no word from Vodafone Idea, whose chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla had last month stated that the company will fold if it is forced to make payment of over Rs 53,000 crore dues. India has been divided into 22 telecom circles or zones for the issue of licenses to operators. And their revenues are calculated circle-wise.
And so, the DoT issued circle wise demand notices to telecom firms.
An order for the UP (West) Telecom Circle asked “all telecom service providers” to clear dues by 11.59 pm Friday.
It asked companies to “make the payment of outstanding dues of licence fee and spectrum usage charges by 14.02.2020, 11:59 PM positively”.
Another order issued for the Rajasthan circle sought “immediate” payments, failing which action would be initiated. It sought “immediate payment of due licence fee and spectrum usage charges along with interest, penalty and interest on penalty (if applicable)” and warned that if the dues are not paid immediately, “necessary action will be taken in terms of the provisions of licence agreement without any further notice”.
“This may be treated as most urgent,” it added.
Prior to issuing the demand orders, the DoT withdrew its order which restrained action against any of the companies who fail to pay up dues by the Supreme Court-mandated deadline of January 23.
The direction by the DoT says its previous order dated January 23, 2020 “stands withdrawn with immediate effect”.
“It is directed to take immediate necessary action in compliance with the judgement dated October 24, 2019, of the Supreme Court,” said the fresh order issued by the DoT immediately after the Supreme Court took a strong view of non-compliance in payment of dues.
In all, 15 entities owe the government Rs 1.47 lakh crore — Rs 92,642 crore in unpaid licence fee and another Rs 55,054 crore in outstanding spectrum usage charges.