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SC restrains DoT from invoking Airtel’s bank guarantees

The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Department of Telecommunications not to invoke the bank guarantees of Bharti Airtel for three weeks to recover ₹1,376-crore AGR dues of Videocon Telecommunications Ltd.

Videocon had sold its spectrum to the Bharti group.

A three-judge Bench, led by Justice L Nageswara Rao, provided the relief to the Bharti Group, which had moved the apex court challenging the demand notice issued by the DoT on August 17 for payment of the Adjusted Gross Revenue dues of Videocon Telecom, in accordance with the Supreme Court’s September 1, 2020 judgment.

The DoT had demanded that Bharti pay up within a week of the date of the notice, and had threatened invoking its bank guarantees.

Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for Airtel, agreed to withdraw from the Supreme Court to approach the “appropriate forum” for redress 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 three weeks from today,” the court ordered.

Videocon Telecom had sold its spectrum to Bharti Airtel in pursuance of agreements entered in 2016. The Bharti Group has already paid ₹18,004 crore in AGR-related dues to the DoT by March 31, 2021 which is much more than 10 per cent of its total AGR dues of over ₹43,000 crore, Divan argued.

In its order of September last year, the apex court had said that telecom operators shall make the payment of 10 per cent 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. The Hindu BusinessLine

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