The Telecom AGR case exposes the connivance of Telecom Operators and Government in fooling the Supreme Court. The recent developments from October 2019 Judgment of Supreme Court exposing around the Rs.1.45 lakh crore dues by telecom companies and Department of Telecom’s (Read Government) under the table games not to collect the dues expose that the corrupt people will use all kind of tricks. Now Supreme Court has caught the Government and the Telecom companies for the dubious games and reserved the Judgment for the execution of how to pay or recover the dues on August 24. The Order is expected to come any time as the main Judge Arun Mishra is retiring on September 2. Other Judges in the Bench are Justice S A Nazeer and Justice M R Shah.
In the history of India, this is the highest dues recovery case handled by Supreme Court, where the receiver of money (Govt) and payer (Telecom companies) engaged in the under the table deals for how to delay or how not to pay the money due to public exchequer, which is already collected from public on behalf of Government per call from mobile phones from 1999.
The Telecom companies again went to Courts challenging the Governments’ recovery notice and lost in all forums and finally came the Supreme Court Judgment in October 2019 ratifying the Government’s demand for dues.
What is the AGR case?
AGR means Adjusted Gross Revenue. From 1999 onwards as per the mobile phone license agreement, from every call, a certain amount of small money has to be paid to Government which is collected by Telecom companies. But Telecom companies were under-invoicing and this humongous fraud was caught by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) during its audit on 2G Scam in 2010. In 2011, CAG asked all telecom firms to submit books of accounts and they objected and challenged in Court. The case went up to Supreme Court and in all Courts, CAG won and started auditing in 2014. In 2016, CAG submitted a report to the Parliament and said that during 2006-2010, six telecom firms hushed up Rs.45,000 crores and recommended that Government has to check the accounts from 1999 and issue dues notice to all erring firms.
So Telecom Department issued notices to all companies finding their dues from 1999 onwards for a whopping total of dues of around Rs.1.45 lakh crores. The Telecom companies again went to Courts challenging the Governments’ recovery notice and lost in all forums and finally came the Supreme Court Judgment in October 2019 ratifying the Government’s demand for dues.
In the evening, after the Supreme Court gave a favourable Judgment to the government on October 24, 2019, the Department of Telecom (DoT) passed an order saying that the judgment of the Supreme Court should not be enforced thru coercive methods! And not a single paisa came to the public exchequer due to this secret order. In January 2020, Supreme Court caught the DoT for this dubious order, and they withdrew the order; owners, fearing arrest, started paying some portion of the dues. By March 2020, around Rs.25,000 crore came into the public exchequer. Thanks to the Supreme Court and especially to the boldness of Justice Arun Mishra-headed Bench.
Now the Government says it is agreeable to 20 years’ installment of the dues. Many expect the Supreme Court to allow installment up to 15 years. Vodafone Idea controlled by Aditya Birla is the biggest defaulter with more than Rs.50,000 crores. The second biggest defaulter is Anil Ambani’s closed firm RComm which in a dubious way gave away its Spectrum to brother Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio. Anil Ambani’s RComm dues are more than Rs.31,000 crores. The third biggest defaulter is Sunil Mittal promoted Airtel with more than Rs.25,000 crores. The rest of the defaulters are Tata, Aircel, Videocon, etc.
Supreme Court also found that defunct companies like RComm, Aircel and Videocon have already allowed their Spectrum to be used by Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio and Sunil Mittal’s Airtel through a doubtful pact in 2016 with the connivance of DoT. Without political clearance from the top, no such things will happen including the current non-interest in the collection of dues. The judges have already asked how the spectrum of the defaulted companies can be used freely, ignoring their dues. All these companies are facing liquidation processes in the courts and none of them have credible buyers.
Interestingly, major Opposition parties including Congress are completely silent on this blatant fraud by the Telecom companies owned by the who-is-who of the Indian Industry. Defaulters being the biggest advertiser, media is like an ostrich on this issue and certain shameless media houses even wrote to the extent of expressing displeasure at the Supreme Court’s interventions. It is very certain that these companies will connive to find another set of tricks to avoid paying the dues after Justice Arun Mishra’s retirement.