Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is likely to move the Supreme Court seeking to exclude spectrum held by Aircel from the scope of the moratorium on the bankrupt telco.
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DoT wants the operator to return the airwaves to the government for not paying dues.
Department of Telecommunications plan comes after an appellate tribunal dismissed its plea contesting an earlier order declaring that Aircel’s spectrum and licence cannot be taken away while it undergoes insolvency, according to people aware of the matter.
The battle between Aircel, which filed for bankruptcy in early 2018 weighed down by Rs 26,000 Crores of debt, and DoT started when the latter demanded payment of dues on airwaves, failing which the Government would suspend the telco’s licences.
DoT is pursuing all legal options because it stands to get only about a fifth of the amount claimed in the resolution plan for Aircel, which is awaiting approval of the National Company Law Tribunal. DoT, an operational creditor, had claims worth some Rs 10,000 Crores, of which Rs 2,000 Crores was approved by Deloitte, the resolution professional overseeing Aircel’s operations.
Last November, the tribunal ruled that Aircel has the “right to use” the spectrum and directed the DoT not to suspend the bankrupt telco’s licences. This was a blow to the government, which had waged a long battle contending that a telco cannot keep spectrum if it does not pay dues.
While the tribunal did not dispute that spectrum ownership is with the government, it said the right to use the airwaves belongs to the telco.
The DoT then moved the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal, which dismissed the plea, saying the appeal was time-barred.
Aircel holds spectrum in Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Karnataka, Mumbai, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. The airwaves are valid until 2026, except for Tamil Nadu, and should evoke interest from operators planning to expand their 4G base.