The top court by its October 24, 2019 verdict had directed the cash-strapped TSPs to pay up Rs 90,000 crore-around 3 per cent of AGR as spectrum charges and 8 per cent as licence fees.
The companies will have to pay the pending dues by January 23. While the government argued that the AGR should include the revenue operators earned from all sources, the operators said it should include only the revenue from core mobile phone services.
Vodafone Idea is likely to approach the Supreme Court for extension of deadline to meet its obligations on adjusted gross revenue (AGR), and may also file a curative plea after its review petition on the court's October 24 ruling was dismissed on Thursday.
Shares in Vodafone's Indian unit plunged nearly 40% on Friday after officials rejected its appeal against paying US$4 billion in back fees, raising questions about the British giant's future in the country. "The industry continues to face severe financial stress and the outcome could further erode the viability of the sector as a whole", the spokesperson said.
"We believe the long-standing disputes raised regarding the AGR definition were bona fide and genuine", Bharti said in a statement.
Bharti Airtel said it was disappointed with the Supreme Court's decision and it would evaluate filing another petition.
Vodafone Idea recovered to Rs 4.69 per share in the late morning trade from the early loss.
DBS analyst Sachin Mittal said while funding costs for the fine might hit Airtel in the short term, the Singtel associate would benefit from rival Vodafone Idea's potential exit. Its British parent said it has written off the value of its investment in the Indian joint venture.
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The recovery of past dues by the government was based on AGR of around ₹92,000 crore. It then has the option of invoking bank guarantees and revoking its permits as a last resort, the official said. Its net debt at the end of September already crossed one trillion rupees.
Vodafone Idea is also in the process of selling its data centres and optic-fibre assets, besides its 11% stake in Indus Towers, to help pare the debt.
The only beneficiary is seen as Reliance Jio, the operator owned by Asia's richest man Mukesh Ambani whose 2016 launch sparked a brutal price war and which escaped with a relatively light US$1.8 billion bill.
In the past decade, India has seen a consolidation in the telecommunications industry. The money now required to pay punitive interest, penalty and interest on penalty which forms almost 75 percent of AGR dues would have better served the digital mission of the country.
In its statement, Bharti said what the industry needs now is continuous investments in expanding networks, acquiring spectrum, and introducing new technologies like 5G.
Shares in Bharti Airtel closed 1.3 per cent higher while Vodafone Idea ended flat, broadly in line with a flat Mumbai market that edged up 0.1 per cent.
The NSE Nifty index was trading 17.90 points down at 12,337.60, while the BSE Sensex was down 30.8 points at 41,901.76 around 09:33 am.