Supreme Court tells Anil Ambani’s Reliance Communications to pay spectrum dues

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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court directed Reliance Communications to pay spectrum liabilities of Rs 774 crore to the telecom department by May 2 after the Anil Ambani-owned operator moved the apex court last week seeking more time clear dues and banks agreed to shell out the amount.

RCom told the court it was willing to make payment but required more time, which the telecom department opposed on the grounds that the company was delaying the instalment for spectrum that was due on April 20, said lawyers aware of the development. “RCom has been given a week’s time from today to make the payment,” one of the lawyers present in court said. The telco’s shares fell 1.4% to close at Rs 17.70 on the BSE on Wednesday.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) had refused to grant an extension to the struggling carrier, which shut down its voice services last year, to pay the instalment due for spectrum auctioned in 2013 and 2015.

Lenders led by State Bank of India had agreed to pay the amount for RCom so that no further litigation prevents or delays the sale of the company’s wireless assets to Reliance Jio Infocomm. Proceeds of the sale, amounting to almost Rs 25,000 crore, will be used to pare RCom’s debt of about Rs 45,000 crore.

SBI wrote to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India that it would pay on behalf of RCom and that the case should be put to rest.

The DoT holds bank guarantees for all deferred spectrum charges.

It has the right to forfeit spectrum or cellular licence if a payment is missed. RCom didn’t comment on the matter as of press time Wednesday.

RCom has been trying to sell its wireless assets including towers, fibre, spectrum and switching nodes to Reliance Jio and wants to sell its real estate assets – a majority in the Navi Mumbai-based Dhirubhai Ambani Knowledge City – as well to further pare its debt to about Rs 6,000 crore.

While the courts have allowed the sale of spectrum and switching nodes to Jio, the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal barred the company from selling the tower and fibre assets as of now. The hearing in this matter is expected on May 2.

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