Hearing an appeal filed by the GSM operators, a bench comprising Chief Justice S H Kapadia and Justices K S Radhakrishanan and Swatantar Kumar stayed telecom tribunal TDSAT's September one order that upheld Telecom Ministry's decision to increase 2G spectrum usage charges.
It, however, directed Vodafone, Bharti Airtel, Bharti Hexacom (operating in Rajasthan) and Idea Cellular to deposit 50 per cent of the proposed increase in fees with the Supreme Court registry.
The Apex Court further asked the telcos to furnish a bank guarantee, for the rest 50 per cent liability.
Telecom service providers have to pay a percentage of their adjusted gross revenue (AGR) to the government as spectrum usage charge. This charge depends on the quantity of spectrum held by the operators.
The new charges vary between 3-8 per cent depending upon the quantum of airwaves held by the respective operators.
As per the new charge, an operator holding spectrum up to 4.4 Mhz will have to pay 3 per cent of the AGR compared to two per cent now.
"Looking into complexity of the matter and stakes involved... we stay the impugned order passed by the tribunal," the apex court said.
Vodafone has to pay Rs 135 crore and the two Bharti firms have a joint liability of Rs 220 crores on account of enhanced spectrum usage charges.
"Telecom operators will deposit 50 per cent of the outstanding principal amount in the Supreme Court registry within a period of two weeks. Balance amount will be secured by bank guarantee within two weeks," the bench said, while issuing notice to DoT.
The Apex court further directed that "the Managing Director of each operator will file an affidavit before the court that in the event of their civil appeal is dismissed their amount would be paid to the government."
Warning the operators, the court further said, "We make it clear if there is any breach of the impugned order that the effect of the interim order would cease."