Supreme Court blasts telecom companies, government over non-payment of AGR; initiate contempt proceedings

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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday blasted telecom companies as well as the government for not complying with its order on the payment of dues worth thousands of crores and initiated contempt proceedings against the errant telecom companies.

 

A three-judge Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Abdul Nazeer and MR Shah directed the presence of all Directors of the telecom firms, including the managing director, on March 17. Those summoned by the bench include managing directors of Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, MTNL, BSNL, Reliance Communications and Tata Telecommunication.

The court had on October 2019 granted 90 days to the telecom companies to pay the dues worth Rs.92, 000 crore sought from them on account of the new meaning of Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR). According to the Telecom Department, Bharti Airtel owes around Rs 23,000 crore, Vodafone Idea Rs 19,823 crore and Reliance Communications Rs 16,456 crore, an NDTV report said.

The bench got furious when it was told that a desk officer of the telecom department had written to the Attorney General asking him to not insist on payment of dues till further orders. The DoT had reportedly issued a circular stating that no coercive action should be taken against the operators for non-payment of AGR dues within the timeframe set by the Supreme Court.

Expressing his anguish on the manner in which the order of the Supreme Court was "stayed" by a desk officer, Justice Mishra thundered, who is the desk officer, who considers himself a judge and stays our order? Where is the desk officer? Call him now here. Is there any law left in the country?" the judges fumed and directed the desk officer to explain why no action should be initiated against him.

Justice Mishra said he was "literally anguished" by the manner in which the order passed by the Supreme Court was not being followed.

"We don't know who is creating this nonsense, is there no law left in the country," the bench asked.  "It is better not to live in this country and rather leave the country," the judges thundered, angry that its order was not complied with.

"I am literally shocked", Justice Arun Mishra remarked as he observed that not a "single penny has been paid till date". "If this is not the outcome of money power, let me speak! This is not the way your Officer should behave".

"This is nothing but a device to oblige the companies..."Justice Arun Mishra said.

"This cannot happen in this country. We cannot function in this fashion. Let’s wind up the Supreme Court. It is better to leave this country. They can stay the order? There is so much money power."

The Court also heard counsel for Oil India, Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, who sought exclusion from the AGR judgement. The Court, however, responded that the PSUs and all other aggrieved parties should seek appropriate remedy before the appropriate forum.

Rohatgi then stated that he would withdraw the application (with inputs from Bar & Bench and NDTV).

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