The Supreme Court on Friday sought responses from Bharti Airtel and the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) on a contempt plea filed by a group of Aircel employees, who accused the two sides of failing to release Rs 453 crore to the debt-laden telco despite an earlier order of the apex court. “The court has sought responses from Airtel and DoT. DoT’s lawyers asked for more time to get instructions,” said a lawyer. The apex court will next hear the case on Tuesday. Senior lawyer Mahesh Agrawal appeared for Aircel in the case. Airtel was represented by senior advocate Gopal Jain. Aircel, owned by Malaysia’s Maxis, did not respond to ET’s queries as of time of going to press. A Bharti Airtel spokesperson said, "We have not received any notice and have no comments to make."
For Aircel, getting the money will be a huge relief as it is going through an insolvency process and needs funds to maintain its assets and pay about 3000 employees their dues. Friday’s notices come on the back of Aircel and unit Dishnet Wireless' appeal to the apex court in December about the delay in returning the bank guarantees. The plea was followed up by the petition filed by about 300 employees earlier this week, requesting the SC to “initiate contempt proceedings” against DoT, Airtel and its units for committing a “contumacious act” by not returning the bank guarantees as directed by the court in November.
The battle between Airtel, the bankrupt operator and the government has been on for more than a year. The country’s second largest telecom services provider had paid Rs 298 crore in cash and submitted bank guarantees worth Rs 453 crore to DoT on behalf of cash-stricken Aircel, adjusting the amount against its Rs 3,500 crore deal to buy Aircel’s spectrum. With the lapse of the bank guarantees, the apex court’s November order effectively means Airtel has to pay Rs 453 crore to Aircel.