Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Taking a strong note of non-compliance of its order asking telecom companies to pay adjusted gross revenue of Rs 1.47 lakh crore to DoT, a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra, JJ has issued contempt notice to the telecom companies. The managing directors of Bharti Airtel , Vodafone, MTNL, BSNL, Reliance Communications, Tata Telecommunication and others have been summoned to the court on March 17.

The Court said that the telecom companies have violated the order passed by this Court in pith and substance as in spite of the dismissal of the Review application, they have not deposited any amount so far.

“Shocked” over the non-compliance of it’s 2019 order, the bench said,

“It appears the way in which things are happening that they have scant respect to the directions issued by this court.”

The Court also issued notice to a DoT Desk Officer who asked the Attorney General to not insist on payment of dues as directed by the Supreme Court.  On this, a furious Justice Mishra said,

“A Desk Officer of the Department of Telecommunications has the temerity to pass the order to the effect of issuing a direction to the Accountant General, another Constitutional Authority”

The Desk Officer had asked the Attorney General

“not to insist for any payment pursuant to the order passed by this Court and not to take any coercive steps till further orders.”

The Court said that this kind of order was nothing but a device to scuttle order of the Supreme Court.

Last year, in Union of India v. Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1393the bench of Arun Mishra, SA Nazeer and MR Shah, JJ had refused to change the definition of gross revenue as defined in clause 19.1 of the licence agreement granted by the Government of India to the Telecom Service Providers. It had held,

“The definition in agreement is unambiguous, clear, and beyond the pale of doubt, and there is no confusion in the definition of gross revenue, which is the basis for realisation of the licence fee. Licensees have made a futile attempt to wriggle out of the definition in an indirect method, which was rejected directly in the decision of 2011 between the parties and it was held that these very heads form part of gross revenue.”

According to DoT, Bharti Airtel owes around Rs 23,000 crore, Vodafone Idea Rs 19,823 crore and Reliance Communications Rs 16,456 crore.

[Union of India v. Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 182, order dated 14.02.2020]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Refusing to change the definition of gross revenue as defined in clause 19.1 of the licence agreement granted by the Government of India to the Telecom Service Providers, the 3-judge bench of Arun Mishra, SA Nazeer and MR Shah, JJ has said,

“The definition of revenue has been taken in a broad, comprehensive, and inclusive manner to pose fewer problems of interpretation, and exclusion of certain items was avoided.”

The Court agreed that to a certain extent, it cannot be disputed that to have clarity, uniformity, and definitiveness; the accounting standards lay down guidelines with respect to financial terms. It, however, said that when the financial terms in the agreement are clear in the form of definition of gross revenue governed by Clause 19.1 of the agreement, the definition of Accounting Standard­9 cannot supersede it which is a general one.

“The definition in agreement is unambiguous, clear, and beyond the pale of doubt, and there is no confusion in the definition of gross revenue, which is the basis for realisation of the licence fee. Licensees have made a futile attempt to wriggle out of the definition in an indirect method, which was rejected directly in the decision of 2011 between the parties and it was held that these very heads form part of gross revenue.”

The Court further noticed that the parties had agreed to various inclusions in the agreement and have willingly switched over to revenue­ sharing regime under the National Telecom Policy, 1999. TSPs agreed to interpretation and accepted it as held by this Court in 2011 judgment.

“The deliberations were held with the licensees, experts, and then finally migration package, revenue sharing regime is being consented to, was worked out in which the definition of adjusted gross revenue as a part of the financial condition of the licence is mentioned.”

Going through the chequered history on the case, the Court noticed:

  • The demand was raised for the first time in the year 2003 despite the fact that the definition of gross revenue was clear. Licensees were aware that these items concerning which they have raised the dispute were included in the definition of gross revenue, as such, they had initially questioned inclusion on the basis of the validity of the definition of gross revenue. The challenge was found to be sans any basis by this Court.
  • The objections raised concerning the validity of the gross revenue, were wholly unsustainable and on the face of it, were liable to be rejected, and came to be rejected finally and conclusively by this Court in the year 2011.
  • After that, again the objections have been repeated to exclude those very revenue items which were held to be included once over an effort has been made to get rid of the definition of gross revenue. The objections which have been raised pertained to the definition of gross revenue for which the court held they are part of revenue.

“Now, relying upon AS­9 standards, an attempt has been made by an indirect method for excluding items, which are expressly included in the definition of gross revenue. Objections are too tenuous, and, as a matter of fact, there was no scope to raise such objections in 2003 itself.”

In the over 150 pages long verdict, the Court has discussed at length the various revenue heads not being revenue and has held that they all fall within the purview of gross revenue.

[Union of India v. Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1393, decided on 24.10.2019]

Hot Off The PressNews

The Union Cabinet has approved two key measures in telecom sector to facilitate investments, consolidation in the sector and enhancing ease of doing business. These include restructuring the  deferred payment liabilities of spectrum auction of telecom service providers and revising the limit of the cap for spectrum holding for telecom service providers.

1.Restructuring of Deferred Payment Liabilities of telecom Service providers for spectrum

By giving one-time opportunity to opt for higher number of instalment (max. 16 instalment) apart from currently permitted 10 instalments. The increased instalment is based upon the principle that the Net Present Value (NPV) of the Payment Due is protected as per respective notice inviting application for auction of spectrum from 2012. The total amount received will be higher by Rs. 74446.01 crore till 2034-35.

2.Revision of limits of cap for spectrum holding

Based upon the recommendations of TRAI and Telecom Commission, the Cabinet also approved the revision of limits of cap for spectrum holding as follows:

  • The overall spectrum cap is revised from the current limit of 25% to 35%.
  • The current intra-band cap is removed. Instead, there is a cap of 50% on the combined spectrum holding in the sub-1 GHz bands (700 MHz, 800 MHz and 900 MHz bands).
  • There will be no cap for individual or combined spectrum holding in above 1 GHz band.
  • The revised spectrum caps limits may be revisited after Final Acts of World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) 2019.

TRAI had recommended revision in the existing limits of cap for spectrum holding taking into consideration the technological advancement, efficient use of spectrum, measures to facilitate consolidation etc.

Impact: With the restructuring of the deferred payment liability, the cash flow for the telecom service providers will increase in the immediate timeframe providing them some relief.  Revising the limit for the spectrum cap holding will facilitate consolidation of telecom licensees and may encourage the participation in the future auction.

Ministry of Communications