The Supreme Court ruling on Adjusted Gross revenue or AGR regarding the telecom Industry has certainly given current existing operators several reasons to worry. While one of the big players, Reliance Jio remains insulated from this pinch, older existing operators like Airtel, Idea-Vodafone and others are poised to feel the brunt of the ruling which directed these operators to shell out a massive Rs 1.3 trillion to comply with the Supreme Court ruling on AGR.
The dispute regarding AGR dates back to 1999 when telecom operators were allowed to migrate from a fixed upfront fee for the spectrum to a revenue-sharing model. The share of the revenue was to be calculated based on the operator’s Adjusted Gross revenue or AGR. However, the operators and the Department of Telecommunications had different opinions on the constitution of the AGR. In 2002, Dot mandated that along with income from telecom operations, the income from other sources like interest etc. would also be included in AGR, against which the operators knocked on court’s door in 2003 and stopped sharing revenue according to the disputed AGR scheme.
The telecom tribunal had then ruled in favour of the operators providing them relief, however, with the Supreme Court upholding Dot’s definition of AGR, Telecom operators are expected to clear off any dues they might have accumulated since the dispute. Of the companies to be affected, Airtel and Idea-Vodafone are expected to shell out amounts to the tune of 40,000 crores to settle the dispute. While the Telecom industry is economically stable, the companies have sought relief from the government over-payment of these dues citing heavy debt and operational requirements.
Reliance Jio is the operator that does not have any dues on account of AGR however has been proactively monitoring this dispute and has come out in opposition to government’s relief for the operators.
In recent comments, Jio calling upon the government against providing any relief to the operators had also suggested ways for the operators to pay their dues, claiming they had adequate recourse to funds.
Bharti Airtel Ltd. can easily raise Rs. 40,000 crore by selling some of its assets or shares, while Vodafone Idea Ltd. has no dearth of resources to pay the government its dues, Reliance Jio said in a statement. If Airtel liquidates “small parts of its assets or issues 15-20 per cent new equity,” in its Indus Tower business it can easily raise the funds, Kapoor Singh Guliani, President for regulatory affairs at Mukesh Ambani led Reliance Jio, said in the letter. Vodafone India also has a stake in Indus Towers, “thus there is no dearth of sources to pay” their dues, he added.
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) had also joined the fray and argued that such payments will lead to a crisis at the companies and cause distress for the sector as a whole.
“Investments could be curtailed, services could deteriorate, jobs could be lost and investor confidence will most definitely be shattered,” COAI Director General Rajan S Mathews said.
“The impact of this crisis could exacerbate the stress in the industry and potentially be catastrophic for the nation.”
However, in this case, too Mukesh Ambani led Reliance Jio– the rival member of the COAI, said that it “completely disagrees with the intent, tone, contents and connotations of the COAI letter.”
While the two operators are already reeling under heavy debt, now if Airtel and Vodafone’s demand for providing relief by reducing the spectrum usage levies and the Universal Service Obligation Fund charge are rejected by the government it is sure to further undermine their business operations countering the rise of Mukesh Ambani led Reliance Jio.