Mumbai: India’s top court agreed to hear a plea by Bharti Airtel Ltd. and Vodafone Idea Ltd. seeking more time to negotiate terms of payment for the $7 billion the two operators owe the government in back-fees, providing temporary relief to the indebted wireless carriers.
The matter will be taken up next week by judges led by Arun Mishra, according to the order by a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde. It will also decide whether the matter will be heard in the open court or not. In October, the court had directed the firms to pay the dues accumulated over the past years from the use of airwaves and licenses.
The latest twist in the legal process opens the door for a possible settlement with the government, which has said can discuss ways of helping ease the burden of the beleaguered carriers. Vodafone Idea and Bharti have a combined net debt of about $30 billion, and reported record losses in the most recent quarter as a result of provisions for the court-ordered payment.
Stripping out interest from the dues or staggered payment are some ideas Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration can negotiate, a government official with knowledge of the matter told Bloomberg News last week.
It was not immediately clear if the companies will have to pay the dues this week as ordered by the court in its October verdict.