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Conversion Of Vodafone Debt Into Equity An Option: Banks To DoT

The top court has given a time period of 10 years to telecom service providers struggling to pay Rs 93,520 crore of AGR-related dues to clear their outstanding amount to the government.

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Conversion of debt of the stressed telecom player Vodafone Idea Ltd (VIL) into equity could be an option to emerge out of the crisis, lenders led by State Bank of India (SBI) have suggested to Department of Telecommunications (DoT).

DoT had called senior bank officials on Friday to discuss the stress in the telecom sector arising out of the Supreme Court order last month on the adjusted gross revenue (AGR)-related dues payable by telecom majors, including Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel, sources said.

The top court has given a time period of 10 years to telecom service providers struggling to pay Rs 93,520 crore of AGR-related dues to clear their outstanding amount to the government.

Bankers also told senior DoT officials that conversion of debt of VIL into equity is an option but not a sustainable one, sources said, adding that since VIL had not defaulted on its debts so far, they cannot take any action yet.

In a bid to keep a company a going concern, banks have used the option of converting debt into equity in many stress cases in the past.

Capital infusion by promoters is the best option in the given scenario, sources said quoting bankers.

The UK-based Vodafone has a 45 per cent stake while Aditya Birla Group owns a 27 per cent stake in the VIL.

Lenders, both public and private, stare at a loss of Rs 1.8 lakh crore in case VIL collapses. A large part of the loans to the lender is in the form of guarantees with public sector banks having a lion's share of the debt.

Among the private sector lenders, Yes Bank and IDFC First Bank may be impacted the most. As a precursor, some private lenders with a funded exposure have already started making provisions.

For example, IDFC First Bank has marked the account of VIL as stressed and has made provisions of 15 per cent ( Rs 487 crore) against the outstanding exposure of Rs 3,244 crore (funded and non-funded).

'This provision translates to 24 per cent of the funded exposure on this account. The said account is current and has no overdues as of June 30, 2021,' the lender had said in its Q1 FY'22 investor presentation, referring to the account as 'one large telecom account'.

According to official data, VIL had an AGR liability of Rs 58,254 crore out of which the company has paid Rs 7,854.37 crore and Rs 50,399.63 crore is outstanding.

The company's gross debt, excluding lease liabilities, stood at Rs 1,80,310 crore as of March 31, 2021. The amount included deferred spectrum payment obligations of Rs 96,270 crore and debt from banks and financial institutions of Rs 23,080 crore apart from the AGR liability.

In a backdrop of such large liabilities, both the promoter Vodafone (45 per cent stake) and Aditya Birla Group (27 per cent stake) expressed their inability to bring in additional capital.

Writing a letter to Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba in June, Aditya Birla Group Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla said investors are not willing to invest in the company in the absence of clarity on AGR liability, adequate moratorium on spectrum payments and most importantly floor pricing regime being above the cost of service.

'It is with a sense of duty towards the 27 crore Indians connected by VIL, I am more than willing to hand over my stake in the company to any entity-public sector/government /domestic financial entity or any other that the government may consider worthy of keeping the company as a going concern,' Birla said in the letter.

Birla has quit the post of non-executive chairman post of the floundering telecom giant last week. 

(PTI)