BENGALURU: Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Monday she would wait to hear the telecom ministry’s stance on the arrears from telecom operators, before expressing her views on the issue.

Sitharaman said in response to a question if the finance ministry was considering granting any relief to telecom companies, which have been asked to pay thousands of crores of arrears to the government based on an expanded definition of their adjusted gross revenue (AGR).

The telecom ministry, the minister told reporters, was fully in touch with telecom companies on the question of the dues. She said it had been engaged with the operators both after the Supreme Court upheld the telecom department’s AGR definition and the SC’s decision last week against giving any relief on the payment.

“I will wait, on behalf of the government, so that we will know the position which the (telecom) department wants to take … It will only be proper to wait to hear from the department concerned,” she said.

Telecom companies pay a portion of their AGR as licence and spectrum usage fee to the government. The telecom department has demanded more than ?1 lakh crore from Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Tata Teleservices as dues, interest and penalty based on the expanded AGR definition.

Sitharaman was in Bengaluru to interact with entrepreneurs, industry executives and tax professionals on the recent union budget, and provide clarifications.

On demands from the startup sector, the minister said she heard startup founders in detail, including about tax relief on employee stock options. The startups, she said, wanted something more and something different, and she asked them to give a representation. “We will take it up,” she said.

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On the issue of ecommerce players having to deduct 1% tax collected at source (TCS) in their transactions with merchants, Sitharaman said the revenue secretary had a detailed chat on who would come under the TCS. “It is not an additional tax,” she said, and added that her team of officials had explained the reasons why TCS was used as an instrument. “If they need more clarifications on this, they can write to us. We will give the complete picture,” she said.

On the question of traders complaining about violation of foreign investment rules by ecommerce players and the Karnataka High Court staying a probe by the Competition Commission of India against Flipkart and Amazon, the finance minister refused to be drawn into a detailed discussion on the grounds that the commerce ministry was seized of it. “The commerce minister has spoken about it several times. The ministry and courts are actively engaged in this matter. I will wait for the ministry to come out with something. Let us see how it would move,” she said.

The proposed amendments to the Banking Regulations Act will make cooperative banks far more accountable, the minister said.



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