Press Trust of india

Sunil Mittal meets Telecom Minister amid AGR turmoil

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NEW DELHI : Bharti Airtel Chairman Sunil Mittal has met Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday, a day after calling on Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, a person aware of the development said requesting anonymity.

Mint could not immediately ascertain the details of the meeting with Prasad.

The meeting comes at a time when companies in the sector has been dealt a body blow with the department of telecommunications seeking over ₹1 lakh crore in past dues after winning a court verdict on the definition of adjusted gross revenue.

Vodafone Idea has been the most hit with dues of over ₹50,000 crore, threatening the very survival of the loss making telco, which knocked on the apex court for relief on Monday, which was not granted.

Top bosses of Bharti Airtel Ltd and Vodafone Idea Ltd reached out to Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday, as a massive payments crisis loomed over the two telcos that together serve more than 580 million customers in India.

Sunil Bharti Mittal and Kumar Mangalam Birla, billionaire chairmen of Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, respectively, had separate meetings with the minister, Mint had reported today.

Emerging from the North Block, which houses the finance ministry, Mittal told reporters on Wednesday that he did not discuss the dues demanded by the telecom ministry following a court order, but pointed to the stress in the sector and the need for the government to focus on its sustainability.

Mittal said the telecom industry is vital to the nation and its digital future. “The only thing the government needs to do is to focus on how to ensure the sustainability of the sector,” he said on Wednesday.

He added that Airtel has already announced its plans to pay up after the Supreme Court declined to grant more time to companies to pay their adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues. Birla did not want to comment on the meeting.

Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea together serve 61% of the telecom users in India. Bharti Airtel posted a loss of ₹1,035 crore while Vodafone Idea reported a loss of ₹6,438 crore in the December quarter. Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd is the largest and only profitable telco in India.

Airtel had on Monday paid ₹10,000 crore out of its estimated liability of over ₹35,000 crore and plans to pay the rest before 17 March.


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