Bharti Infratel board –  will discuss the next step to be taken in the board meeting on December 24 on if an extension is to be sought for the Infratel merger with Indus Towers announced in April last year, sources said.

The deal has already missed October 24 deadline for want of approvals and the current deadline expires on Tuesday. The deal needs clearance from the Department of Telecom which needs nod from Finance Ministry in view of an international arbitration of an old case when Vodafone bought Hutchison stake in Indian telecom arm in an 11 billion dollar deal.

India slapped a 3 billion dollar withholding tax on Vodafone which went to international arbitration. Withholding is a tax deducted at source, especially one levied by some countries on interest or dividends paid to a person resident outside that country. The case is pending.

In October the Infratel board had already given a two-month extension to secure the government’s approval which expires tomorrow. “Board will decide tomorrow whats to be done. If the Board feels more time is needed (to secure government approval) then it may be extended further or anything can be an option,” the sources said.

Anything could mean a termination of the deal but the source did not say it. Cash-strapped Vodafone Idea, currently holding 11.15 per cent in Indus Towers, was banking on an exit at the time of merger to raise over Rs 5,500 crore to fund its future network expansion needs.

The merger, proposed well over a year ago to create a company with over 1,63,000 towers, had received a clearance from the Chandigarh bench of the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) in early June, and had been awaiting a nod from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for enhancement of foreign direct investment limit.

As per the merger terms, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Plc – which currently own 42 per cent each in Indus Towers – were expected to hold 37.2 per cent and 29.4 per cent, respectively, in the merged entity. KKR and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board were expected to own a combined 6 per cent stemming from their stake of over 10 per cent in Bharti Infratel.

The crucial merger, which is expected to help loss-making telecom companies Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea sell stake to raise funds to meet their several funds needs still awaits government approval. Airtel and Vodafone are to pay government about Rs 1.30 lakh crore as AGR dues within the next one month.

Both have filed for review petition in the Supreme Court. A special committee by Bharti Infratel, set up in October, had extended the long stop date to December 24. As the merger is contingent upon receipt of regulatory approvals and fulfilment of other conditions, there can be no assurance that the process can be completed within the extended time-frame, Bharti Infratel had informed the BSE on October 24.

This merger will help Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Group Plc, promoters of Indus Towers, to sell their stake, bring down debt and invest in wireless operations in India. Earlier this month, Reliance Industries Ltd wholly owned subsidiary, Reliance Industrial Investments and Holdings Ltd, entered into binding agreements with Brookfield Infrastructure Partners LP and its institutional partners for an investment of Rs 25,215 crore in the units to be issued by Tower Infrastructure Trust, its tower arm.

This agreement makes Jio the anchor tenant of the tower portfolio under a 30-year master services agreement. RIL is also talking to potential investors to divest stake in its fibre assets. Raising funds by divesting non-core assets has become crucial for telecom companies .

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