Mittal joins hands with Birla to meet FM, says govt needs to focus on sector’s ‘sustainability’

Mittal joins hands with Birla to meet FM, says govt needs to focus on sector’s ‘sustainability’

Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal and Vodafone Idea chairman KM Birla at North Block on Wednesday. (Express photo)

Four days after the Supreme Court rap for failure to pay adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues by the stipulated deadline of January 23, Bharti Airtel founder Sunil Bharti Mittal and Vodafone Idea chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla appeared to be joining hands in seeking some relief from the government on the issue. Both Mittal and Birla met Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday evening for nearly 40 minutes. The telecom industry leaders, however, refused to divulge any details of the meeting.

Talking to reporters after the meeting with Sitharaman, Mittal denied having discussed the AGR issue, and instead said the government should focus on “how to ensure sustainability of the sector”.

“There is nothing specific. In general terms, the telecom industry has been under stress for three-and-a-half years. This industry is very vital to the nation’s digital agenda and many other industries that ride on it, employment, government taxes. The only thing that the government needs to focus now is how to ensure the sustainability of the sector,” said Mittal, adding he would not speak anything about AGR dues as of now.

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Mittal, earlier in the day, met Department of Telecommunications (DoT) Secretary Anshu Prakash. Birla, accompanied by Vodafone Idea managing director and chief executive officer Ravinder Takkar, met Prakash on Tuesday. Takkar had returned to the DoT office again in the evening. Birla is also learnt to have met Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad last Friday.

On February 14, the Supreme Court, during the hearing of a modification plea moved by telecom and non-telecom companies, said if the firms did not make payments of the pending AGR dues before March 17, the managing directors and other directors of the firms would have to make personal appearance before the court. The apex court then issued show-cause notice to the companies as to why contempt of court should not be initiated against them for failing to comply with orders.

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On October 24, 2019, the SC upheld the DoT’s definition of AGR and said since the licencees had agreed to the migration packages, they were liable to pay dues, the penalty on dues, and the interest on penalty due to delay in payments. The SC then gave the telcos three months to clear their AGR dues. That three-month deadline had ended on January 23.