Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news

AGR: "I am literally shocked" Justice Arun Mishra directs presence of Managing Directors of telcos

Court has also directed them to show cause as to why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against them.

Aditi Singh

Anguished by their non-payment of Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) dues, the Supreme Court today directed the Managing Directors/Directors of the errant telecom companies to show cause as to why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against them. (Union of India vs Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers)

A three-judge Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Abdul Nazeer and MR Shah also directed the presence of all Directors of the telcos, including the Managing Director, on the next date of hearing, if the dues are not cleared till then.

"I am literally shocked", Justice Arun Mishra remarked as he observed that not a "single penny has been paid till date".

The Court also pulled up the Department of Telecom desk officer who wrote 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 said,

"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

The Court has now directed that the order be withdrawn immediately.

It has also drawn contempt proceedings against the Desk Officer for passing the order in violation of the Court's direction.

During the course of the hearing, Justice Mishra said that he was "literally anguished" by the manner in which the order passed by the Supreme Court was not being followed and was "stayed" by a Desk Officer.

He said,

"Is there no law left in this country? I am literally anguished. I should not work in this country at all. I am saying this with some responsibility..."

"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.."
Justice Arun Mishra

The Court today 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.

The application now stands withdrawn.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court had agreed to hear pleas filed by Telecom majors seeking a modification of the Court's October 2019 judgment on the interpretation of AGR.

The October 2019 judgment passed by the Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra had granted a period of 90 days to the telecom companies to pay the dues sought from them on account of the new meaning of Adjusted Gross Revenue.

This period of ninety days was scheduled to lapse on January 24. The companies approached the Supreme Court seeking a modification of this order.

The applications filed by the various companies are on similar lines and seek to negotiate the schedule for payment of these dues with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).

Bharti Airtel had submitted that 90 days is not a sufficient time to undergo the process of evaluating dues and the payment of them. It was also added that irreparable damage may be caused to the telecom industry at large.

Vodafone, on the other hand, had detailed the financial stress the company was facing and said that it was not in a position to make a payment upfront, or provide a bank guarantee. Vodafone also stated the impending job losses the current situation is likely to cause.

The matter will be heard next on March 17.

Read the Order:

UOI vs Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India.pdf