Telecom operators Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio have paid the government about Rs 6,000 crore in spectrum dues slated for March 3, but debt-ridden Reliance Communications has so far not deposited its dues of Rs 21.5 crore, sources said.
A source privy to the development told that India‘s largest telecom operator Vodafone Idea has made payment of over Rs 3,042.7 crore to the department of Telecom towards its spectrum dues (that is, deferred payment installment for spectrum bought in auctions).
The due date for the said payment was March 3, and Vodafone Idea made its payment on March 2, the source said.
Vodafone Idea – whose Rs 25,000 crore fund raising plan by way of rights issue recently got the cabinet nod – is slated to make its next payment of over Rs 6,000 crore sometime in April.
While Bharti Airtel made payment of Rs 1,918 crore and Reliance Jio of Rs 1,053 crore by the due date, the embattled Reliance Communications has not yet made payment of Rs 21.5 crore as on the due date.
The sources aware of the stipulated procedures said that telecom companies are given a grace period of 10 days after the due date by the DoT to make the payment, failing which a further decision is taken on such matters.
Reliance Communications declined to comment to an e-mail query on the issue.
A Vodafone Idea spokesperson confirmed that that the company has made the due spectrum payments but did not divulge any details.
An Airtel spokesperson said that “Airtel has paid all its spectrum dues in full as per timelines”.
A mail sent to Reliance Jio did not elicit any response.
The move assumes significance as Vodafone Idea has earlier sought two-years moratorium on annual spectrum payment of over Rs 10,000 crore, citing high debt levels and stress on the balance sheet. In all, the amount to be paid by Vodafone Idea is estimated to be around Rs 11,900 crore this year.
Vodafone and Idea have participated in five auctions that were held in 2010, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016 before merging their mobile businesses. In five auctions, Vodafone alone had acquired spectrum worth Rs 79,343 crore, which is highest in terms of value compared to bids made by any other operator.
Idea too had purchased spectrum worth Rs 63,597 crore in those auctions. After completion of merger on August 31, 2018, the spectrum payment liability is now on Vodafone Idea.
The government, in March last year, enhanced number of annual installments for spectrum payment from 10 to 16 years to provide relief to the sector, which is reeling under the debt of around 7.8 lakh crore.
But, industry body Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI) in November again approached DoT secretary Aruna Sundararajan to seek additional 2-year moratorium on payment of installments of spectrum won in the auctions and interest charges imposed on installments.
The industry argues that the sector has lost 42% revenue from sales of telecom services on quarterly basis between April-June 2016 and July-September 2018. They have said the debt level on four mobile operators is at around Rs 5 lakh crore, and 60% of the liability is from spectrum payment obligations.