February 17, 2020

OIL, Non-Telecom PSUs May Move TDSAT On AGR Dues

[ By Bobby Anthony ]


Public sector oil explorer Oil India Ltd (OIL) may move the Telecom Disputes Settlement & Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) challenging any move by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to seek an additional license for its limited telecom and internet service operations on the basis of a recent Supreme Court ruling on adjusted gross revenue (AGR).

Other PSUs including PowerGrid, Railtel, GAIL, DMRC and Gujarat Narmada Valley Fertilizers & Chemicals Ltd are also evaluating similar legal options and may finalize their move soon in order tyo get clarity from the TDSAT about expected license fee demand from the DoT based on their overall revenue, which is not limited telecom operations that they run.

The DoT is learnt to have calculated license fee dues to the tune of Rs 48,489 from OIL which the company is likely to challenge in TDSAT soon. As per license conditions, any dispute between the licensor and the operator has to be referred to TDSAT.

Recently, the Supreme Court had rapped all telecom companies including Airtel and Vodafone to comply immediately with its earlier order to pay AGR dues and also asked managing directors and directors of all telecom operators to be present in court on March 17, in case AGR dues have not been paid by then.

Though non-telecom companies have not been directly impacted by the latest order from the Supreme Court that was considering petitions of only telecom firms, there is fear that the DoT may use the issue to target non-telecom companies as well to keep it at safe distance from any future wrath of the courts.

As per industry sources, if AGR is calculated as per new DoT definition, PowerGrid would require to fork out over Rs 22,063 crore. The impact would be much higher for GAIL and other non-telecom PSUs. Total dues from these non-telecom companies could work out to over Rs 2 lakh crore. GAIL alone could be in the region of 1, 72,500 crore.

On October 24 Supreme Court ruled that AGR for telcos should include all revenue accrued to carriers, including that from non-core activities, backing the telecom department's stance in a 16-year-old case but putting additional license fee burden of Rs 92,000 crore on telecom companies.

While the order did not distinguish between pure play telecom players and those with very limited telecom operations for payment of license fee under the new AGR definition, there is fear and doubt among cross section of energy and infrastructure sector PSUs that they may also be asked to pay higher license fee for their telecom operations by way of Internet Service Provider (ISP) and National Long Distance Service licenses.

While DoT so far has not issued any directive to these PSUs about paying up license fee dues on new AGR definition, it has sent letters to ISPs to submit the AGR documents up to 2018-19 in Kerala circle and plans soon start sending them across the country for compliance of the Supreme Court order.

The DoT has already asked operators, including ISPs and Virtual Network Operators (VNOs), to do a self-assessment of their respective dues as per the license conditions.

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