'No law left in country?' SC raps DoT officer

'No law left in country?' SC raps DoT officer on staying top court verdict on telcos' AGR dues

It is better not to live in this country and rather leave the country," the bench observed. (Credit: PTI Photo)

The Supreme Court on Friday asked Telecom companies why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against them for failing to pay over Rs 1.50 lakh crore Adjusted Gross Revenue to the Centre and threatened to send a department of telecom officer to jail for "staying" the top court's order.

“Should we wind up the Supreme Court now? Is there any law left in the country? Is this not the money power? Who is sponsoring all this? We will draw up contempt against everyone,” a furious bench presided over by Justice Arun Mishra said.

The top court said CMD and MD of the telecom companies would have to be personally present on March 17 if they failed to clear their dues of Rs 92,000 crore, which has now gone up to over Rs 1.50 lakh crore with interest and penalty.

The court declined to consider the plea for extension of time for the companies as the review petition against the October 24, 2019 judgement on payment also stood dismissed on January 16, 2020, but they did not pay the amount.

"Does the Supreme Court have no value? What is happening in the country? All these companies haven’t even paid a single penny and your officer has the audacity to stay the order,” the bench, also comprising Justices S Abdul Nazeer and M R Shah, told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Union government.

The court said if the officer, who issued a letter to the Accountant General, another constitutional authority, “not to insist for any payment and not to take any coercive steps till further orders”, did not withdraw it on Friday itself, he would be sent to jail. It issued a contempt notice to him seeking his response by March 17.

Initially, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the public sector companies, tried to intervene.

The bench, however, did not mince words to ask him, “Who is making all this to happen? We want to use harsh words. This is complete nonsense. We have already said what we have to say. What have you made of the system.”

The development is going to add to the financial woes of the debt-hit sector. Airtel, Vodafone, Tata Teleservices, Reliance Com, BSNL and MTNL have to bear the burden of dues with penalty and interest.

SC quotation from the order:

“This case projects a very disturbing scenario. The companies have violated the order passed by this court in pith and substance. In spite of the dismissal of the review application, they have not deposited any amount so far. It appears the way in which things are happening that they have scant respect to the directions issued by this court.”

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