Supreme Court lashes out at telecoms firms, says no re-evaluation of dues allowed

A rickshaw puller speaks on his mobile phone as he waits for customer in front of the advertisements of telecom companies in Kolkata

By Suchitra Mohanty

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday lashed out at mobile phone operators for self-assessing their outstanding telecoms dues, saying it amounted to a violation of court orders.

The Supreme Court late last year upheld a demand by India’s telecoms department that wireless carriers pay 920 billion Indian rupees ($12.4 billion) in overdue levies and interest.

Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel, two of India’s top three carriers, owed the bulk of that money.

Bharti Airtel has paid 130 billion rupees and another 50 billion rupees as ad-hoc payments to cover any differences based on its own assessment. That, Bharti said, covers all outstanding dues, though it is less than half of the company’s liability as estimated by the telecoms department.

Vodafone Idea has so far paid 68.54 billion rupees of the 215 billion rupees it estimates it owes, but much lower than the government demand.

Both companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court also came down heavily on the federal telecoms department for allowing companies to re-assess what they owed to the government, saying its order in the matter was final.

It, however, said it was open to considering pleas seeking reasonable time for payment of the dues.

Shares in Bharti Airtel were trading 2.5% lower, while Vodafone Idea was down 32.99% at 0707 GMT.

(Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty; Writing by Sankalp Phartiyal; Editing by Tom Hogue and Christopher Cushing)

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