Expert group to look into AGR claims row

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NEW DELHI: The government will form an expert group to decide over Rs 82,300-crore disputed AGR (adjusted gross revenue) claims that have arisen due to differences between the outstanding payment sought by the telecom department (DoT) and those claimed by private telecom companies such as Vodafone Idea, Airtel and Tata Group.
“The issue is critical as the amount of disputed numbers is mammoth. An expert group is thus being constituted to look into the matter so that a carefully studied opinion can be formed that will be acceptable to all the parties involved,” a top source told TOI.
The numbers are huge for each operator. While the DoT has demanded Rs 58,254 crore in past dues from Vodafone Idea (also mentioned in the DoT’s latest submission in the Supreme Court), the company has pegged the self-assessed dues at only around Rs 21,533 crore, leaving a gap of Rs 36,721 crore.

On the other side, the DoT has demanded Rs 43,980 crore as AGR dues from Airtel (including Telenor’s numbers), but the company claims a self-assessed number of Rs 13,004 crore — a difference of nearly Rs 31,000 crore. The Tata Group has claimed that its self-assessed dues are to the tune of Rs 2,200 crore, while the DoT pegs them at 16,798 crore, leaving a gap of Rs 14,601 crore.
“The process of reconciliation of self-assessed dues of telecom companies with DoT-assessed/calculated dues will be done under the oversight of an expert group of persons, to be constituted by the DoT,” the source said.
The issue around the difference in calculations is expected to become yet another thorn between the DoT and the telecom companies, even though the latter have managed to get a reprieve from the Union Cabinet on the payment tenure that has been recommended at 20 years (this decision now needs to be cleared by the Supreme Court in the hearing that will be conducted on Wednesday).
While the DoT has so far stuck to its guns and has said that it will take nearly 6-8 months to assess the numbers claimed by the telcos, people involved in the job for the mobile operators insist that “there are many gaps that have been ignored” in the DoT’s assessment.
“Errors are there in what the DoT has estimated. For example, in some cases, the DoT has taken the numbers from the balance sheet and not from the profit and loss account. In certain cases, some excess payments made by companies have not been considered, which has resulted in calculation of unwanted interest and penalty,” a top official representing one of the companies said, though requesting anonymity.
The official also said that the “mechanism of recognising discounts” is also faulty in some cases, while there are issues in determining access charges. Also, there are certain “computational errors” that can be clarified easily. “Care has been taken by the companies when providing the self-assessed claims to the DoT. Everybody was careful when doing so as they are scared of being in contempt of court in case of false claims. Thus, no frivolous claims have been submitted. We have done a lot of due diligence and consulted top auditors, lawyers, and other experts, apart from the internal staff.”
DoT, however, also maintains that its numbers have been worked out after a thorough process. “Much of the numbers have been audited even by the C&AG as well as a special audit. We are confident about our estimates and the demands we have raised,” the DoT official, who did not wish to be named, said.

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