New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday threatened contempt proceedings against top executives of telecom giants like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and others for failing to comply with its directive to pay an estimated Rs 1.47 lakh crores in past dues. In a judgment which will have far-reaching implications for the telecom sector, the court also expressed its displeasure at the “temerity” of a desk officer in the department of telecom for “scuttling” its order by issuing a written directive to not take any coercive action against firms for not depositing dues by the January 23, 2020 deadline.
A bench of Justices Arun Mishra, S. Abdul Nazeer and M.R. Shah said the companies have violated its order and asked them to clear the dues before the next date of hearing on March 17.
“In spite of the dismissal of the review application (filed by the telcos), they have not deposited any amount so far. It appears the way in which things are happening that they have scant respect for the directions issued by this court,” they said in the judgment.
Separate petitions filed by non-telecom firms such as gas utility GAIL and power transmission firm PowerGrid, who were slapped with a demand of Rs 2.65 lakh crores by the DoT, were withdrawn by the applicants after the court said they can represent their case at appropriate forms.
After the Supreme Court rap, the department of telecom withdrew its January 23, 2020 order that called for no coercive action against defaulting firms and started issuing notices to telcos asking them to deposit dues before midnight of Friday.
While Airtel said it will deposit Rs 10,000 crores out of its dues of about Rs 55,000 crores within a week, there was no word from Vodafone on the payment of dues.
The court on Friday issued showcause notices to the managing directors/directors of the telecom service providers, asking why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against them for not complying with its 2019 order to pay the government Rs 92,000 crores in dues.
The court order said: “It is made clear that in case the order passed by this court is not complied with, the above persons shall remain personally present in court on the next date of hearing.”
Besides this, the court also took a serious view of the “temerity” of a DoT desk officer in directing the accountant-general, a constitutional authority, “not to insist for any payment pursuant to the order passed by this court and not to take any coercive steps till further orders”.
Observing that this was nothing but “staying” its October 2019 order, the court said: “This is nothing but a device to scuttle the order of this court. This kind of order should not have been passed by the desk officer at all.”
“In the circumstances”, the court said, “we draw contempt proceedings against the desk officer for passing the order and violating the order passed by this court.” The court asked the desk officer to file his reply.