New Delhi/Mumbai: India’s top court told wireless carriers including Bharti Airtel Ltd. and Vodafone Idea Ltd. that they need to pay $13 billion of dues to the government, rejecting an appeal by operators struggling to stem losses and reduce debt.
A three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra Thursday dismissed review petitions filed by the telecommunication companies against the October verdict. Under that ruling, Vodafone Group Plc’s India venture has to pay $4 billion, while Bharti Airtel got a $3 billion bill — all due on 24 January.
The court’s rebuff is the latest setback for the survivors of a brutal tariff war sparked by the 2016 entry of billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd., an upstart that disrupted the industry with free calls and cheap data. Both Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, with a combined net debt of about $30 billion, reported record losses in the quarter through September, and were counting on the court to reverse its order.
For two decades, the operators had challenged the way authorities calculated their annual adjusted gross revenue, a share of which is paid as license and spectrum fees. With the October ruling, the court upheld the government’s method, while rejecting the companies’ plea to exclude revenue from non-telecommunications businesses. The government had raised a total demand of around 920 billion rupees ($13 billion) against all telecom operators, including defunct ones, according to filings in the court.-Bloomberg
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