In a ruling handed down Monday, the Supreme Court of India required Vodafone to deposit 20 billion rupees (U.S. $300 million) with the nation’s Department of Telecommunications (DOT) in exchange for a license that will allow the British wireless carrier to proceed with a three-year-old plan to merge several local operating subsidiaries.
Vodafone ranks as the second-largest wireless carrier in India and as the nation’s largest foreign investor, and Monday’s ruling constitutes the latest step in a process that Vodafone initiated in 2012 with an eye toward conducting an initial public offering (IPO). That year, Vodafone India proposed to merge four local licensees—Vodafone East, Vodafone South, Vodafone Cellular, and Vodafone Digilink—with its main holding company, Vodafone Mobile Services. The plan also called for the merger of two additional units, Vodafone West and Vodafone Spacetel, with Vodafone Services. Market conditions and a series of regulatory and tax disputes (including the government’s demand for $2.7 billion in tax payments associated with Vodafone’s 2007 acquisition of Hutchison Essar) forced Vodafone to put the merger on hold for a year. After Vodafone revived the plan in 2013, the company again found itself at odds with the DOT, which, earlier this year, subjected the transaction to U.S. $1 billion in spectrum, airwave usage and other fees. After the DOT refused Vodafone’s offer to pay a much lower rate of $270 million to convert the subsidiaries’ licenses into a single, unified license, Vodafone took the matter to India’s Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), which ruled in the company’s favor in October.
Responding to an appeal of the TDSAT ruling brought by the DOT, the Supreme Court this week gave Vodafone the option of submitting an interim payment of $300 million that would allow the merger to proceed during appeals, or submitting the lower offer of $270 million along with an explanation as to why Vodafone opposes the DOT’s $1 billion demand. At the time of October’s TDSAT ruling, Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao disclosed that his company had begun preparatory work on an IPO that has yet to be scheduled. A spokesman said this week that Vodafone would comply with the first option decreed by the court. Company officials also confirmed that Vodafone will again contest the $1 billion fee at an upcoming meeting of the TDSAT.”