AGR case DoT's 'desk officer' issued order after senior official's nod

(Eds: Correcting word in intro)
New Delhi, Feb 14 (PTI) Mandar Deshpande, an Indian accounting and finance services officer, is the 'desk officer' who faced much of the Supreme Court's ire over non-payment of dues by telecom firms.
     He had issued an order saying no coercive action should be taken to recover Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) dues from telecom firms after expiry of the deadline set by the apex court.
     The order, issued after approval of Member (Finance) in the DoT, was found by the Supreme Court to be a virtual attempt to stay the court's order.
     On Friday, the court came down heavily on the "temerity" of a desk officer in the DoT for "scuttling" its order seeking payment of past dues by telecom firms such as Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea by January 23.
     The court did not name the officer.
     According to a copy of the order seen by PTI, Deshpande had issued the order on January 23 directing "not to take any coercive action against the licensees in case they fail to comply with the Supreme Court order, until further orders".
     The order, he had said, was being issued "with the approval of Member (F)".
     Deshpande was posted as Director (LFP-I) in the Licensing Finance Policy Wing of the DoT when the order was issued.
     After the apex court threatened contempt proceedings, the DoT got another Director, Ankur Kumar, posted in the same department to issue an order on Friday, saying the January 23 order "stands withdrawn with immediate effect."
     "It is directed to take immediate necessary action in compliance with the judgement dated October 24, 2019 of the Hon'ble Supreme Court," the order, a copy of which was reviewed by PTI, said.
     This order too was with the approval of Member (Finance). P K Sinha is Member (Finance).
     On October 24, 2019, the apex court ordered that non-telecom revenues should be included in the AGR for calculating statutory dues such as license fee and spectrum charges.
     The DoT calculated that Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and others owe as much as Rs 1.47 lakh crore in past dues including penalties and interest while non-telecom firms, who had taken some license from it, owed another Rs 2.65 lakh crore.
     While the Supreme Court had ordered payment of dues by the telecom companies in three months, telcos sought review of the decision. Their petition was dismissed in January.
     Telcos then sought modification in the October 24 order, seeking more time to clear the dues due to financial crunch. This plea was dismissed by the apex court on Friday.
     Expressing displeasure over an order passed by the DoT's desk officer, which virtually stayed the effect of its verdict, the apex court said this is nothing "but a device to scuttle" its judgment and this case projects a "very disturbing scenario". It issued notice to the officer.
     It noted that the desk officer "has the temerity to pass the order" to the effect of issuing a direction to another constitutional authority, the accountant general, "not to insist for any payment pursuant to the order passed by this court and not to take any coercive steps till further orders".
     "In the circumstances, we draw contempt proceedings against the desk officer for passing the order and violating the order passed by this court," it said.
     "A desk officer is writing to the AG (Accountant General). There is so much money power. Is this not the outcome of money power? Let me speak, I do not bother," Justice Arun Mishra said.
     "We have to draw contempt against this man (desk officer) and also against these companies. How are they behaving? We had dismissed the review plea and not even a single penny has been deposited yet. The desk officer is staying our order. We are concerned with the health of judiciary, of this country and of this system," the bench said.
     The bench wanted that the order passed by the desk officer should be withdrawn immediately otherwise "he (desk officer) will be sent to the jail in the evening today". PTI MBI ANZ RAM

(This story has not been edited by THE WEEK and is auto-generated from PTI)