‘Don’t invoke Bharti guarantees for 3 weeks’

SC directs DoT in Videocon AGR issue

The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to not invoke bank guarantees of Bharti Airtel for three weeks, towards recovery of ₹1,376 crore in AGR dues of M/s Videocon Telecommunications Ltd.

Videocon had sold its spectrum to the Bharti group.

A three-judge Bench led by Justice L. Nageswara Rao provided the temporary relief to the Bharti group, represented by senior advocate Shyam Divan, which had moved the apex court challenging the demand notice issued by DoT, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, on August 17 for payment of the AGR dues of Videocon in accordance with the judgment of the Supreme Court on September 1 last year.

DoT had asked Bharti to pay within a week of the date of the notice. The department had threatened the group of invoking its financial bank guarantees.

Mr. Divan, in the course of the hearing, agreed to withdraw from the Supreme Court to approach the “appropriate forum” for redressal against the notice. Granting it liberty to do so, the Bench in turn noted that the DoT was “at liberty to raise all contentions”.

“The Department of Telecommunications shall not invoke the financial bank guarantees of respondent no.53 (Bharti) for a period of three weeks from today,” the court ordered.

Videocon had sold its spectrum to Bharti Airtel in pursuance of agreements entered into with the latter in 2016. The Bharti group has already paid ₹18,004 crore in AGR-related dues to DoT till March 31, 2021 which is much more than 10% of its total AGR dues of more than ₹43,000 crore, Mr. Divan argued.

In its order of September last year, the apex court had said that telecom operators shall make the payment of 10% of the total dues as demanded by the DoT by March 31, 2021, and the rest be paid in yearly instalments from April 1, 2021, to March 31, 2031.

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