SC issues notice to Airtel on Aircel plea seeking Rs 453 crore dues

The Supreme Court has asked Bharti Airtel to reply to a notice in two weeks while admitting bankrupt telecom firm Aircel’s petition seeking Rs 453 crore dues from the Sunil Mittal-owned mobile phone operator.

Last week, Aircel had moved apex court seeking an order directing Bharti Airtel to pay the Rs 453 crore that it owes to the bankrupt carrier for buying 4G spectrum back in 2016. In its petition, Aircel alleged that the market leader was “illegally and unjustifiably withholding and enjoying” the amount while some 3000 employees of the Maxis-owned telco had gone unpaid for four months.

Aircel, through its unit, had last Friday filed two separate petitions in the Supreme Court. The first plea was to implead Airtel in the telco’s case against the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) in an issue involving bank guarantees which the government sought before clearing the transfer of 4G spectrum in 2016.

The second sought an order directing the Sunil Mittal-owned telco to pay Rs453 crore to Aircel; or submit the amount with the court. Aircel further sought a direction to Airtel not to “adjust, set off or appropriate any money payable” by it to its larger rival while depositing the Rs453 crore in court, since the Sunil Mittal-owned telco had already filed its claims with the resolution professional (RP) as part of the insolvency process.

“Airtel Entities is illegally and unjustifiably withholding and enjoying Rs 453 crore at the cost of appellants (Aircel) and more than 3000 employees who have not been paid salaries over four months and thousands of other employees who have resigned from the services of the appellants over financial stringencies and uncertainty and could not be paid their full and final dues including but not limited to the statutory and other contractual pay outs,” Aircel said in its petition filed by unit, Dishnet Wireless.

The debt laden company also alleged that Bharti Airtel was withholding the guarantees knowing that without the money, the telco undergoing insolvency may get liquidated. “Airtel entities are intentionally indulging in dilatory tactics with malafide intention to usurp and misappropriate the Rs 453 crore lying their trust …”