As the negligence of the central government towards the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) continues, the major trade unions and associations in the public telecom service provider are all set to organise lunch-hour black-flag demonstrations throughout the country on July 16. The demonstrations will be organised under the banner of the All Unions and Associations of BSNL (AUAB) to express the deep anguish and resentment of the employees against cancellation of BSNL’s 4G tender, cancellation of BSNL’s proposal for upgradation of its 49,300 BTSs to 4G, abnormal delay in issuing Add on Order for 4G equipment, inordinate delay in the implementation of BSNL’s Revival Package and against the non-settlement of the burning problems of the employees.
Though it has been over nine months since the BJP-led central government introduced a revival package for this public sector undertaking, BSNL employees are not getting payment of their salary on the due date. Following the revival package, about 79,000 employees were retrenched from the PSU under VRS, which has cut down the wage bill of the company by more than 50%. A revival package of Rs. 69,000 crore for BSNL and MTNL had been announced on October 23, 2019.
“This state of affairs of BSNL, speaks volumes about the lethargy and indifference on the part of the Government of India and the BSNL Management, in taking expeditious steps for reviving BSNL. Rolling out of BSNL’s 4G service is the back-bone to the revival of this telecom PSU,” said AUAB in statement.
Among other things, the revival package included allotment of 4G spectrum to BSNL, asset monetisation and extending of sovereign guarantee, to enable BSNL to raise funds from market, by issuing bonds. But, the recent cancellation of the tender floated by BSNL, for procuring 4G equipment at a cost of Rs. 9,300 crore, has washed off the hopes for 4G services of BSNL.
According to unions in BSNL, the PSU already has 49,300 BTSs (Base Transceivers), which are 4G compatible and through minor upgradation, all these BTSs can be converted into 4G BTSs with a small investment of about Rs.1,500 crore.
“In addition to this, BSNL could have added another 15,000 BTSs, by placing Add on Order to the existing Mobile tender. Thus, 64,300 4G BTSs could have been pressed into service by the BSNL Management, within two to three months of allotment of 4G spectrum in October 2019. Thus, BSNL could have rolled out it’s pan-India 4G service, with very good pan India coverage. However, the BSNL Management has miserably failed in this task,” the statement said.
The tender floated by BSNL, to procure 4G equipment, has been cancelled by the government based on a complaint from the “Telecom Equipment and Services Promotional Council” (TEPC). The cancellation of tender would further delay the launching of its 4G services. BSNL is already lagging four years behind the private operators in the 4G segment.
Also read: BSNL Employees Stage Dharna, Demand Immediate Roll Out of 4G Services
The crux of the complaint of the TEPC is that, BSNL, in it’s 4G tender, has violated the norms prescribed in the “Make in India” Policy. The TEPC has also demanded that foreign vendors should be barred from participating in BSNL’s tender. “It is important to note that the Hon’ble Finance Minister has announced that tenders upto Rs. 300 crore need not go global. Whereas, the value of BSNL’s tender was Rs. 9,300 crore. The complaint of the TEPC is nothing but a ploy by the vested interests, who are out to destabilise BSNL, by disrupting it’s procurement of 4G equipment,” said P Abhimanyu of AUAB.
Questioning the apathy of the Centre, the unions are questioning that when private telecom operators are procuring world standard equipment from multinational companies, why BSNL alone should be compelled to procure 4G equipment from domestic vendors, whose 4G technology is not tested or proven so far.
Few days back, the Finance Ministry had taken the much belated decision to extend sovereign guarantee to BSNL, for raising Rs. 8,500 crore, by issuing long term bonds as promised in the revival package. But, unions say that in the name of monetisation of BSNL’s assets, there are moves to hand over the land assets of BSNL which are in the prime locations of various cities across the country to the corporates at throwaway prices. However, the employees and unions demand that these lands should be sold in a transparent manner and at the prevailing market rates.
Along with this, unions allege that the payment of salary to its employees has become the last priority of the BSNL Management.
In May 2020, BSNL earned a revenue of Rs. 1,400 crore, whereas, only Rs. 420 crore is required for the payment of salary. Still, the salary was not paid on the due date. The case of contract workers is much worse than this. The contract workers have not been paid wages for more than one year and as a result of which, 12 contract workers have alleged died of suicide so far.
Citing that the BSNL employees have been active even amid the pandemic, the AUAB has demanded, “The Management should immediately take steps to ensure that the employees get cashless treatment from empanelled hospitals during COVID-19 pandemic. The Management should pay Rs. 10 lakh to the family of the employees who die due to COVID-19, based on the instructions issued by the DoT in such cases. Make payment of the wage arrears of the contract workers, which is remaining pending for more than one year, without any further delay.”
Along with the demonstrations, AUAB also plans to submit memorandum to all the MPs, during the period from July 13 to July 31 urging upon them to intervene for the expeditious rolling out of BSNL’s 4G service, as well as the early revival of telecom PSU.
Read more:BSNL: After Package Announcement, Centre’s ‘Revival’ Push Hits the Buffers