Cracking down... India's government is training its sights on collecting overdue bills, from telecom service providers to blue-chip businesses. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Mumbai (Bloomberg): Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is seeking at least $30 billion in overdue telecom fees from mobile-phone service providers to energy companies and fertilizer makers as it struggles to meet its budget deficit target with economic growth foundering.

Gujarat Narmada Valley Fertilizers & Chemicals Ltd. said the telecom ministry has ordered it to pay 150.2 billion rupees ($2.1 billion) by January 23, more than 20 times the company’s annual profit. This follows a $3 billion demand from Vodafone Group plc’s Indian unit, another $3 billion from Bharti Airtel Ltd., and reports that GAIL India Ltd. has been asked for $24 billion.

Modi must arrest a deterioration in public finances if he’s to boost spending and stimulate an economy that’s slumped to a six-year-low. India’s budget deficit hit 115 per cent of the full-year target with four more months to go. A Supreme Court verdict is helping the government in its hunt for funds - at least from companies that bought any form of telecom licenses.

Non-tax revenues

“The emphasis on non-tax revenue is not surprising given weak tax collections,” said Priyanka Kishore, head of India and south-east Asia economics at Oxford Economics. “If current trends persist it is likely that the Modi government’s fiscal deficit target will slip to 3.7 per cent of GDP” in the year ended March 2020 compared with the 3.3 per cent target.

Gujarat Narmada said it will seek legal advice in the matter, which pertains to licenses for satellite phones and internet services held between 2005 to 2019.

GAIL India is also facing a 1.7 trillion rupees demand. GAIL has told the government it owes nothing more than what it has already paid. Vodafone’s local unit in December said it will cease operations if it doesn’t get government support.

Modi’s administration has been asking companies with telecom licenses to pay dues after the nation’s Supreme Court said it can take into account a firm’s entire revenue for calculating licensing fees.