Vodafone Idea drops a missed call to Supreme court; offer stokes fear of bankruptcy, joblessness and political snowballing

Source :SIFY
Author :SIFY
Last Updated: Mon, Feb 17th, 2020, 19:15:05hrs
Vodafone Idea

A fresh morning and all eyes were set on two major telecom players - Vodafone Idea Limited and Bharti Airtel. More importantly, how much they paid of their AGR (Adjusted Gross Revenue) dues.

And on Monday, Bharti Airtel reportedly paid Rs 10,000 crores as part of its dues. Vodafone Idea Limited meanwhile gave a missed-call. It explained to the Supreme Court that it could pay Rs 2,500 crores as part of its AGR dues and another Rs 1,000 crores by Feb 21. Vodafone Idea has already failed to pay its dues on the last date set by the Supreme Court and had requested time from Department of Telecommunications to wait for outcome of its plea before the court. It also appealed to the SC from enforcing coercive action and invoking bank guarantees to avoid hampering operations. Last week, the top court threatened to hold Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel and other telecom majors in contempt over non-compliance with a previous order on clearing AGR dues within stipulated time frames.

The amounts referred by VIL are one-tenth of two official figures circulating in the media. Going by what VIL said On Saturday, it seems the telecom firm is still in a self-assessment phase. On Saturday, VIL told exchanges that it was in a self-assessment mode as to how much money it could pay. "The company proposes to pay the amount so assessed in the next few days," it said in a filing to the Bombay Stock Exchange

According to an estimate by the Department of Telecom, AGR dues of Vodafone Idea were pegged at approximately Rs 53,038 crores. This is a combination of Rs 24,729 crores on spectrum usage charges and Rs 28,309 crores towards licensing fees. Another version pegs the amount at Rs 44,000 crores.

On Monday, Airtel reportedly paid Rs 10,000 crores, however there has been nothing from Vodafone Idea except for the latest offer. While the Supreme Court has come down heavily on telcos for non-payment of dues, it is not yet clear how much Vodafone Idea will pay and when. VIL has dues of at least Rs 44,000 crores, which are required to be paid before the court's next hearing on March 17.

Besides the delay and the hi-cost of dues involved, theories around bankruptcy have started floating. But if VIL goes to a bankruptcy court it could be an earthquake moment for India Inc. SBI chief Rajnish Kumar on Saturday hinted that any company shutting down is a loss for banking industry. A popular theory suggests that Vodafone-Idea could approach an Insolvency & Bankruptcy Court via the National Company Law tribunal as an alternative from being branded "contempt of court".

Sadly, dark clouds loom ahead for VIL - a company that had cash and cash equivalents worth Rs 12,530 crores up to December end. The cash in hand is just one-fourth of the dues payable, making the situation grim and uncertain. A probable bankruptcy may not only hit the government and investors but could make life hell for 13,520 staffers of the company. A government life-line has not been ruled out, but even that is challenging given the current political environment.

Modi government's earlier stance to go easy on telecom operators - Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Tata Teleservices on adjusted gross revenues (AGR) brought about chants of a 'suit boot ki sarkar' and allegations of crony capitalism from opposition. The bigger question is not whether there is support, but India Inc will be observing what life-line VIL gets. An IANS report on electoral bonds data suggests that the three firms were big donors to the BJP further lending credence to the allegations of crony capitalism by the Opposition.

Is it a a catch-22 situation for the political party? No one is sure yet, but the government may want to keep its image clean and avoid any last minute lifelines.

The Congress on Saturday alleged quid pro quo in the decision of the Modi government to allow a breather for telcos. Randeep Singh Surjewala, in-charge, Communications, AICC said in a statement that what is the quid pro quo for Modi government to defer recovery of Rs 1.02 lakh crore from telecom companies as per order dated 23rd January, 2020 over which Supreme Court has now issued contempt and deferment of recovery of Rs.42,000 crore from telecom companies vide Cabinet decision dated 29th November, 2019.

Surjewala also asked as to why Modi government is extorting Rs 1.60 lakh crore from the pockets of 112 crore prepaid cell phone users as tariffs have been raised by 30-40 per cent.

Surjewala also asked if the increase of 40% in cell phone tariff and data usage charge a method to recover Rs 1.02 lakh crore payable by telecom companies from the pockets of ordinary Indians.

On January 23, Surjewala said the Modi government issued an order for not recovering Rs 1.02 lakh crore from telecom companies and not to take any coercive action by stating "not to insist for any payment pursuant to the order passed by Supreme Court and not to take any coercive steps till further orders."

In 2017-18, for the BJP, 38 per cent of all its donations came from two donors -- Prudent Electoral Trust (Rs 154.30 crore) and Ab General Electoral Trust (Rs 12.5 crore).

As per media reports, the BJP raised well over Rs 800 crore between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019 before the Lok Sabha elections and the biggest single contribution came from the Tata group backed Progressive Electoral Trust, which donated Rs 356 crore.

Prudent Electoral Trust, predominantly funded by Bharti Airtel, DLF and the Hero group, sent in over Rs 67 crore to the BJP and Rs 39 crore to the Congress in 2018-19. The Aditya Birla General Electoral Trust has sent in over Rs 28 crore to the BJP and they donated Rs 2 crore to the Congress.

Will VIL head to a bankruptcy court? The new week will offer fresh cues, however, for every single dropped call, VIL' customers will certainly think of alternatives. And the immediate one will India's largest telecom provider that seemed to have no problems during easy the AGR dues case.