India's Supreme Court on Friday ordered top telecom companies to pay $13 billion in unpaid spectrum and licensing fees by March 17 or face punishment in a fresh blow to ailing mobile carriers.
Shares in Vodafone Idea, which said it would be hardest hit by the ruling, fell 23 percent on Mumbai's Sensex Index exchange after the court's announcement.
Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio - owned by Asia's richest man Mukesh Ambani - were also hit by the order, which comes after the companies failed to obey an October ruling demanding payment of overdue levies within three months. The court has threatened contempt proceedings against the companies and Department of Telecommunications government officials for non-compliance with that ruling.
The long-running row between the government and India's big telecoms has centred on how licence and other fees paid by the firms should be calculated. Companies argue they should be based on income from only their telecoms business, while the court ruled they should be calculated on the amount earned from all business dealings, including handset sales and other income.
On Friday the companies asked the court for more time to pay, which Justice Arun Mishra described as "complete nonsense".
Vodafone Idea, a joint venture of Britain's Vodafone Group and India's Idea Cellular will have to stump up about $3.9 billion.