It seems that industry sympathy for Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel after the two Indian operators were hit with a massive bill for unpaid dues may not be shared by some members of the general public.
An Indian consumer rights group is reported to have launched a public interest litigation (PIL) against the Indian Department of Telecoms (DoT) in the Supreme Court. Its case? That the DoT should be doing more to pursue the billions of dollars in unpaid dues.
As we know, the October 2019 ruling by India’s Supreme Court stipulated that operators had to calculate their adjusted gross revenues to include non-core services. The result was nearly $13 billion of debt – the majority of it owed by Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel.
These two operators have asked for a chance to go back to the DoT and request more time to pay, on which courts are due to rule this week. In the meantime there was no payment on last Thursday’s deadline (though number three operator Reliance Jio has cleared its much smaller debt).
It’s by no means a foregone conclusion that the operators will get their wish; in any case all the ruling would do is give them a chance to pay over a longer period. However, the Save Consumer Rights Foundation clearly feels that the DoT has not done enough.
The argument is that this is public money (indeed, it will go back to government when and if paid), and the service providers have already collected huge amounts and earned revenue from the public. There is, therefore, substantial public interest involved in this case and, say the litigating group, the operators should be forced to pay up.
It’s not clear who the members of the Save Consumer Rights Foundation are or how much influence they have, but this is another fascinating twist to a long-running story, albeit one that may be resolved this week.