Marten Pieters, Former CEO, Vodafone India

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court’s decision on the contentious issue of adjusted gross revenue (AGR) has reinforced the belief that foreign investments in telecom haven’t paid off, former Vodafone India chief executive officer Marten Pieters told ET.

Pieters, a former Vodafone Group Plc board member, said that for most foreign investors, it’s been a “bad dream,” given the negative developments in the sector, including the entry of a monied Reliance Jio Infocomm, besides regulatory hurdles.

“For most foreign investors, it has been like a bad dream… The Indian telecom market has developed in a very negative way for investors,” he said.

The apex court backed the telecom department and ruled on October 24 that AGR should include revenue from a telco’s non-core activities, leaving the stressed sector in a spot with a liability of Rs 1.3 lakh crore in licence fees, spectrum usage charges, penalties and interest, due since 2003.

R Ashok, a former member of the Telecom Commission, the highest decision-making body of the department of telecommunications (DoT), opposed the grant of relief for telcos.

“Having won a long-fought litigation as a petitioner before the Supreme Court of India, it is the government’s bounden duty to implement the ruling fully in its favour immediately… Any move to grant any waivers would be against the Supreme Court order,” Ashok said.

However, Pieters said the sector is already in bad shape, with debt of over Rs 7 lakh crore.

“With a new player seemingly having access to infinite money and the other operators having headwinds in regulation and now with the judicial outcome of the longrunning case about the definition of revenue sharing with the government, you can see that investment has not paid off,” Pieters said.

Loss-making Vodafone Idea faces dues of over Rs 39,000 crore to be paid in under three months. Rival Bharti Airtel is staring at over Rs 40,000 crore of dues. Both telcos have sought relief, including a waiver or lowering of penalties and interest.

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